Taiwan's Tsai 'deeply touched' by St Vincent PM's visit amid China tension

TAIPEI, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Monday that she was moved by his determination to visit Taiwan, despite China's recent military exercises around the self-ruled island.

"Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us," Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.

The prime minister of the Caribbean country - one of around a dozen nations to have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan - said he was on the island to express solidarity, strengthen bilateral relations and pursue peace, security and prosperity for all.

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"As in our own hemisphere, the Western hemisphere, we do not like it and we do not support it when any powerful neighbour seeks to intimidate us or bully us," Gonsalves said. "Wherever there are differences, we must settle them peacefully in a civilised manner."

This is Gonsalves's twelfth visit to Taiwan, and the eleventh as prime minister, "clearly demonstrating the importance that he attaches to diplomatic relations between our countries," Tsai said.

In recent days, China has held unprecedented military exercises in the waters surrounding Taiwan and launched ballistic missiles over the island's capital for the first time.

The drills were launched in response to a visit to the self-governing island by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week and were initially scheduled to end on Sunday, the day Gonsalves arrived in Taiwan for a six-day visit.

China's military said on Monday that it is continuing drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and claims the island as its own territory.

Taiwan's government says China has no right to speak for it or claim sovereignty, saying only Taiwan's people can decide their own future and the People's Republic of China has never controlled any part of the island.

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Reporting by Sarah Wu; Writing by Martin Quin Pollard and Sarah Wu; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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