Taiwan recognizes Kosovo in move likely to anger China

TAIPEI Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:40am EST

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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan said on Wednesday it is recognizing Kosovo, in a move certain to anger diplomatic rival China which has resolutely opposed the Balkan region's independence from Serbia.

"Kosovo declared independence on February 17 and the Republic of China (Taiwan) has formally recognized Kosovo with immediate effect," Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, using the island's official name.

But the Foreign Ministry stopped short of saying whether it had forged formal diplomatic ties with Kosovo.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own and is slowly winning over the dwindling number of countries that recognize Taiwan, says it has "deep misgivings" about Kosovo's independence, and has dismissed Taipei's talk of recognizing it.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said it was pointless to even talk of Taiwanese recognition of Kosovo, because there is only one China, to which Taiwan belongs.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, but cementing a bitter ethnic frontline in the Balkans.

Taiwan's number of diplomatic allies has been dwindling over the past few years as China tries to isolate the island diplomatically.

China sees Taiwan as a renegade province that needs to be reunified eventually, by force if necessary. The island has been ruled separately since the defeated Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek fled there after losing a civil war in 1949.

In January, Malawi became the latest country to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish ties with China, leaving Taipei with only 23 allies, mainly poor African, Latin American and South Pacific countries.

Taiwan has had its own diplomatic adventures in the Balkans before, having ambassador-level relations with Macedonia between 1999 and 2001, after it split from the then Yugoslavia.

But Macedonia then ditched Taiwan for China, after Beijing vetoed a U.N. plan to extend the mandate of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Macedonia.

(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jerry Norton)

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