TAIPEI — Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli arrived in Taiwan Thursday, becoming the first leader of the Central American nation to visit the island in six years, officials said.
Martinelli will meet his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou as well as Lai Shin-yuan, the island's top official in charge of ties with China, the foreign ministry said.
The trip suggested ties were improving after hanging in the balance while left-wing Martin Torrijos served as Panamanian president from September 2004 to July 2009.
"The visit will mark a new chapter in the bilateral relationship," a foreign ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "Unlike his predecessor, Martinelli is more pragmatic."
The stabilisation of the ties was also in part due to Ma's "diplomatic truce" with Beijing, she said, alluding to a tacit agreement between the two former rivals to stop poaching diplomatic allies from each other.
Since his inauguration in 2008, Ma of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party has pledged to ditch the island's "dollar diplomacy," under which it offered generous financial packages in return for diplomatic recognition.
Only 23 countries -- mostly in Latin America, Africa and the South Pacific -- recognise Taiwan.
China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory even though the island has ruled itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.
While here, Martinelli will also brief local businessmen as part of his efforts to lure investments, the foreign ministry said.
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