Panama recognizes Taiwanese ambassador after six months

By Joseph Yeh, The China Post

Foreign Minister Timothy Yang yesterday confirmed that Panama’s president has finally recognized Taiwan’s new ambassador to the Central American ally Monday after a six-month wait. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli received the credentials of Diego Chou (周麟) at the Presidential Office on Monday, Foreign Minister Yang told media at a press conference in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Taipei headquarters yesterday evening. The ceremony was joined by Panamanian Acting Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez de Soto and officials from both countries, according to a MOFA press release. Both sides have also discussed “some of the key issues of mutual concern” for the two countries during the meeting, and how to push bilateral cooperation projects in the future, the release said. The Panama president’s move ended more than half a year of diplomatic drama between Taiwan and its Central American ally.

Chou had been appointed and sent to Panama in January. He was the only ambassador among the diplomatic corps in the Central American country whose credentials Martinelli had yet to accept until Monday, meaning he will not be able to attend official events organized by Panama’s president. The Martinelli government’s refusal to officially recognize Chou’s assignment came as a form of retaliation against a meeting between Yang and Panamanian Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, leader of an opposition party, earlier this year, which led to the accusation that Yang was meddling in the ally’s internal politics. Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, Yang confirmed his meeting with Varela in Guatemala when he attended the inauguration of the Guatemalan president this January was indeed the main reason behind the long delay of Chou’s official recognition by Panama’s government. The foreign minister, however, explained that it was Varela who invited him for the meeting with the sole purpose of extending congratulations to President Ma Ying-jeou for being re-elected to a second term. The incident was a “simple misunderstanding,” he noted. He has personally written a letter to Martinelli explaining the nature of the meeting in the hope that the row won’t harm bilateral ties. The misunderstanding has finally resolved after months of negotiations and talks, Yang added. No Checkbook Diplomacy: Yang Yang yesterday also refuted media speculation that President Martinelli recognized Chou only after Taiwan government has made promises to Panama on new foreign aid projects. The MOFA claimed that they did not make any new offers to the Central American ally and that both sides have only agreed to continue to push the ongoing and previously agreed programs. The minister stressed that his ministry has already forsaken the controversial checkbook diplomacy practiced by the government prior to current Ma administration. Taiwan now carries out cooperation programs with its allies based on the principles of “right goals, legal procedure and efficient implementation” for the ultimate purpose of cementing ties and meeting humanitarian need, he added.