(AFP) – May 5, 2008
TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan's president-elect Ma Ying-jeou called Tuesday for a "ceasefire" in its money-guzzling diplomatic battle with China amid a scandal over the alleged embezzlement of 30 million US dollars.
In his first public comments on a furore that has rocked the island in the last weeks of the outgoing administration, Ma told AFP in an interview that "chequebook diplomacy" was hurting both Taipei and Beijing.
"I think a ceasefire of some sort should be an objective of the two sides (because) this kind of competition will lead to nowhere, and will hurt both sides financially," he said.
"As the old saying goes, 'in love and war nothing is unfair,' but I think this is something that (we) really have to have second thoughts, whether that will be in our best interests to do."
Only 23 nations around the world formally recognise self-ruled Taiwan over China, from which it split in 1949 after a civil war.
Taipei lost its UN seat to Beijing in 1971, and both sides have often used generous financial packages to influence governments -- especially in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific -- to ensure loyalty or persuade them to switch recognition.
The missing 30 million dollars was government cash earmarked for Papua New Guinea -- which currently recognises Beijing -- but authorities allege it was pocketed by two businessmen.
Prosecutors searched the homes Tuesday of three of Taiwan's top government officials in the latest twist in the diplomatic scandal.
Television images showed prosecutors separately raiding the homes of Vice Premier Chiou I-jen, foreign minister James Huang, and vice defence minister Ko Chen-heng in Taipei.
Fred Lin, spokesman for the Taipei Prosecutors' Office, was not immediately available for comment, but Huang told reporters: "They (prosecutors) did their job, but they did not take anything (from my home)."
The move came a day after prosecutors said they had obtained a list of seven people who may have received kickbacks worth a total of 10 million dollars.
Outgoing Vice Premier Chiou has admitted introducing one of them to Foreign Minister Huang, but denies any involvement in embezzling.
Ma vowed to ensure the inquiry brought those responsible to justice.
"I think what we should do is cooperate fully with the prosecutors in their probe into this scandal, and obviously we have to find out just what happened in order to be accountable to our people," he added.
"A lot of people are outraged by what they have seen," he said. "Certainly we will make sure that in the future this sort of thing will not happen again.
"We will let the prosecutors do what they can do best, and then prosecute whoever responsible according to the law."
The scandal surfaced only last week, when Singapore's high court approved Taiwan's request to freeze the joint bank account of two businessmen who were to serve as "intermediaries" to help Taipei forge ties with Papua New Guinea.
Huang has said Taipei was not seeking to lure allies with cash, insisting the money was to be used for development projects in the poor island nation.
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