March 2, 2010 / 9:48 AM / 9 years ago

Despite China, Taiwan president to visit S.Pacific, U.S.

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou will visit six South Pacific nations this month and stop over twice in U.S. territory, his office said on Tuesday, a move likely to upset political rival China.

Ma will stop twice on the U.S. island of Guam for refueling on his most comprehensive official trip abroad since taking office in 2008, the president’s office said.

China, which claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and seeks to limit its influence abroad, normally protests when the United States allows access to leaders from Taipei, though its opposition has been muted since Beijing-friendly Ma took office.

Beijing also bristles at any strong shows of Taiwan’s clout overseas. Taiwan has 23 mostly impoverished allies in Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific, compared with China’s more than 170, including the world’s most powerful nations.

Ma will travel from March 21-27, visiting all six of its South Pacific diplomatic allies: Kiribati, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Solomons and Tuvalu. Ma and his counterparts will discuss agriculture, solar energy and long-term development.

Keeping markets stable and China trade ties on track as the two sides negotiate an economic cooperation framework agreement, Ma will make his trip low-profile, analysts predict.

“Ma is trying to show goodwill to China, so it doesn’t want to emphasize the sovereignty of Taiwan,” said Shane Lee, a political science professor at Chang Jung University in Taiwan.

China has claimed Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT) fled to Taiwan.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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