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June 23, 2017

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Ma meets US secretary of state in Panama

PANAMA CITY--Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou engaged in "friendly" interactions with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday in a rare encounter during the inauguration ceremony for Panama's new president.

Ma said that he and Kerry, who represented the U.S. government at the inauguration of Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, chatted on a wide range of topics, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a U.S.-led trade bloc that Taiwan hopes to enter, and the World Cup.

The president told reporters afterward that he and Kerry discussed Taiwan's desire to join the TPP, saying the top U.S. diplomat indicated Taiwan should continue making efforts in that regard.

"Basically, he was of course quite friendly to us," he said.

Ma said he also thanked Kerry for arrangements for his flight to Panama to make transit stops in San Francisco and Honolulu.

He also reportedly watched the Argentina Switzerland World Cup match with several heads of state, which he called an interesting experience.

"It's a rare scene for around eight heads of state and a U.S. secretary of state to watch a game together," Ma mused.

Chatting with high-level U.S. officials like Kerry is unusual for the president of diplomatically isolated Taiwan, which does not have formal ties to the United States.

Ma previously met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the Vatican in March 2013 at the inauguration of Pope Francis.

Panama is one of 22 countries with official diplomatic ties to Taipei.

Ma attended the inauguration of Panama president-elect Juan Carlos Varela Tuesday.

He was seated in the front row of a section reserved for visiting foreign heads of state at the ceremony, between El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina.

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