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June 28, 2017

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Fiji is closing its representative office in Taipei

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's international space may be getting squeezed further.

Officials from Fiji have cleared out of their representative office in Taipei, which the South Pacific island nation is shutting down, Kuomintang Legislator Lu Shiow-yen revealed Wednesday.

Lu said the move had been orchestrated by China to embarrass Taiwan, and that attempts by Taipei to convince Fiji to leave just one or two officials in Taiwan were unsuccessful.

The office served as Fiji's de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

The Foreign Ministry later confirmed that Fiji was closing down the office, but claimed that the move was not indicative of changes to bilateral ties.

The development comes at a sensitive time. The one-year anniversary of President Tsai Ing-wen's inauguration is next week, and there is no sign of any defrosting in cross-strait ties.

Foreign Ministry officials said relations with other allies remained stable. No other countries had signaled plans to close their offices or withdraw staff, it said.

Economic Considerations?

Fijian representative Karai Vuibau said the decision to close the office was based on a review of its embassies and missions worldwide.

Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Chih-chung said that with a population of only 850,000 people, the Pacific island nation had limited diplomatic resources.

But some, including Lu, are still pointing to possible interference from China.

Asked by Lu whether Fiji's decision was the result of pressure from Beijing over the "New Southbound Policy" or was taken to curry favor with China to secure Belt and Road investment, Wu said only that the ally had made the move based on economic and geographical considerations.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama was among more than 50 world leaders who attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing earlier this week.

Taiwan would maintain its representative office in Fiji, Wu said, adding that the two countries' ties remained strong and that bilateral cooperation would continue.

In 1997, the Trade Mission of the R.O.C. was established Fiji to enhance economic and tourism ties.

Then-President Chen Shui-bian visited the country in 2005, plunging Sino-Fijian relations into temporary disarray. In 2007, the country also spoke in favor of Taiwan after the World Organization of Animal Health moved to change the island's designation.

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