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June 26, 2017

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Taiwan growing closer to Order of Malta: report

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan might be able to gain a new diplomatic ally, according to a foreign media report.

Ralph Jennings, a contributor for Forbes, wrote that Taiwan and the Sovereign Order of Malta, a tiny European state inside Rome, have recently strengthened their collaboration.

"Based on this collaboration, we are confident in developing and deepening the relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan)," the country's communications director Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate was quoted as saying in the story.

The director, however, did not comment directly on the issue of diplomatic recognition.

Asked to comment, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Eleanor Wang told local media that Taiwan and the Sovereign Order of Malta had been working closely on international humanitarian assistance issues for years.

The Sovereign Order of Malta also has close connections with the Holy See, Taiwan's only diplomatic ally in Europe, Wang said.

Without commenting directly on the possibility of forming diplomatic ties, Wang said the R.O.C. government would continue to work closely with the European state in international humanitarian assistance projects.

The R.O.C. currently has 21 diplomatic allies, most of them in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in South Pacific regions.

The country lost Sao Tome and Principe to Beijing last December, the first country to sever ties with Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen assumed office last May, amid heightened cross-strait tension.

Foreign Minister David Lee (李大維) previously disclosed that Taiwan has a list of countries it wanted to form official diplomatic relations with.

"The question is not whether we are capable of (forming diplomatic relations with new allies), but whether we want to do that or not," Lee said during an interpellation on March, 6. He refused, however, to disclose the countries he was referring to.

The last time Taiwan formed an official tie was with St. Lucia in April 2007. Forming diplomatic relations with a new ally is likely to further anger China, which has been trying to lure away Taiwan's allies.

900 Years of History

According to its official site, the Sovereign Order of Malta was founded in Jerusalem in 1048.

Since 1834, the Order of Malta's governmental seat has been in Rome, where it is guaranteed extraterritorial rights.

The Order of Malta operates through 12 priories, 47 national associations, 133 diplomatic missions, one worldwide relief agency and 33 national volunteer corps, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centers and specialist foundations.

It does not pursue any economic or political goal and does not depend on any other state or government.

The Order, with 13,500 knights, dames and auxiliary members, employs about 25,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics assisted by 80,000 volunteers in more than 120 countries, assisting children, homeless, handicapped, refugeed, elders, terminally ill and lepers around the world without distinction of ethnicity or religion.

In 2012, a delegation from the Order of Malta went to Taipei and Matthew Festing, the former Order's Prince and Grand Master, visited for six days in November 2015.

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