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Media partly at fault for Ma's 'out of focus' tour of Africa

After concluding his 12-day African trip to visit three of Taiwan's four diplomatic allies on the continent, President Ma Ying-jeou was finally back in the coun try on Wednesday morning.

The tour was Ma's first overseas trip since winning his re-election bid in early January, and it was also the first time a Taiwanese president set foot on the continent since 2002.

The state visit that took Ma to Burkina Faso, The Gambia and Swaziland was supposed to be of significant importance for the country in terms of solidifying bilateral ties.

If, however, you ask any Taiwanese about their opinion on the just-concluded trip, they would reveal that they know little about these African countries, nor do they have any knowledge about bilateral cooperation projects except for our president's “friendly sports exchanges” with several foreign heads.

In Burkina Faso, Ma engaged in a push-up contest with his African counterpart during a national banquet.

While in The Gambia, Ma faced down another sports challenge, leading Taiwan past The Gambia 4-3 in a soccer penalty kick shootout.

In Swaziland, the last leg of his African tour, Ma and Swaziland King Mswati III again engaged in sport exercises including jogging and push-ups.

Because of these episodes, local media have described Ma's trip as “aerobic” or “sport” diplomacy in a somewhat sarcastic tone. Ma himself seems quite satisfied with his new approach in promoting diplomatic ties with allies, saying that such exchanges could aid in strengthening personal relations between national leaders and thus boost mutual ties.

Ma's “sport diplomacy” in Africa received harsh criticism from opposition lawmakers and some local scholars, who accused the president of missing a great opportunity to solidify Taiwan's presence in Africa.

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