China, Taiwan spar over attendance at conflict diamond meeting

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - China said on Wednesday it was reasonable to have a delegation from self-ruled Taiwan removed from a conference in Australia about conflict diamonds, as Taipei accused Beijing of playing politics for its own ends.

China says Taiwan is part of “one China”, ruled by Beijing. It regards the island as a renegade province, ineligible for state to state relations and to be brought under Chinese control, by force if needed, especially if Taiwan moves toward formal independence.

Taiwan says China has stepped up efforts to block its international space and attendance at multilateral forums following the election last year of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald said the Chinese government delegation shouted over the welcome ceremony and forced the suspension of proceedings at the Kimberley Process meeting, and that Taiwan’s delegation was later removed.

The Kimberley Process started when southern African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000 to discuss ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. Taiwan was granted observer status in 2007.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the organizers had improperly invited Taiwan to the meeting, which was in violation of the rules and something China had repeatedly complained about ahead of the event.

“But China’s reasonable concerns were not respected,” Geng said, adding that many others at the meeting supported China’s position though got no reaction from the organizers.

China’s complaints about the issue during the meeting were in line with the rules and were “reasonable and fair” and supported by many other attendees, he said.

Taiwan denounced the Chinese interference.

“This kind of inappropriateness is a disregard for the host country and all the participants, seriously affecting cooperation on professional issues and we express regret and condemnation,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

“China has for a long time used political force to limit our international participation or obstruct our attendance at various professional (meetings), particularly in recent times the pressure is stronger than in the past.”

The ministry thanked Australia for its goodwill in inviting Taiwan.

Australia, like most countries, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, though the two have good economic and business ties.

The conference chair withdrew the Taiwan invitation “following objections from China and several other delegations,” a spokeswoman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

“Continual disruption ... was regrettable and the Australian government’s concerns with respect to the behavior of Chinese delegates have been raised with the Chinese ambassador,” she added.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, J.R. Wu in TAIPEI and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez