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May 26, 2017

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Beijing pressure alters ROC delegation itinerary

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Pressure from China was the main reason for a delegation led by Defense Minister Yen Ming (嚴明) to change its itinerary in Africa in April, a diplomatic source told local media yesterday.

Leading a delegation as a special envoy for President Ma Ying-jeou, Yen attended the birthday celebration of Swaziland's King Mswati III and also visited another of Taiwan's African allies, Burkina Faso, during a two-week tour from April 21 to May 2.

During the tour, the delegation made a transit stopover at South Africa when traveling to Swaziland. In an attempt to make another layover at South Africa on its way to Burkina Faso after concluding its trip at Swaziland, the South African government that originally agreed on the stopover, however, changed its mind and denied the delegation from doing so, sources told the Chinese-language Liberty Times yesterday.

The delegation later decided to hire a charter flight to fly directly to Burkina Faso from Swaziland instead, the report said.

Sources alleged that Chinese pressure could be the main reason behind the South African government's major about-face to deny the R.O.C. delegation, since the African country has official ties with Beijing instead of Taipei.

Asked to comment, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday said it would not comment on the report because the itinerary of Yen's Africa trip was arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

In response to the report, MOFA spokeswoman Anna Kao (高安) yesterday would not give a direct answer on whether the Chinese factor could explain the last-minute change of itinerary in South Africa.

"Charter flight has always been one of MOFA's pre-arranged transportation options when traveling among African countries because many of these countries do not have direct flights," Kao said.

A diplomatic source who prefers to remain anonymous yesterday told the Chinese-language Apple Daily that China is indeed the main reason behind the incident.

According to the source, Beijing had pressured South Africa not to approve the delegation's second stopover after it learned the group had successfully made a first stopover.

The source said after the delegation learned of the South African government's latest decision, it immediately decided to hire a charter flight to facilitate the trip because otherwise the delegation would need to make a transit stop at a European country before flying to Burkina Faso, which could cost even more money, the source said.

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