China, Sao Tome re-establish relations with trade mission

SAO TOME Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:40pm GMT

SAO TOME Nov 13 (Reuters) - China plans to open a trade mission to promote projects in Sao Tome and Principe, 16 years after it broke off relations over the tiny Central African nation's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, Sao Tome officials said.

The ex-Portuguese colony is among a few African nations, along with Burkina Faso, Swaziland and The Gambia, that recognise Taiwan, which China formally regards as a renegade province to be recovered by force if necessary.

The agreement between the Sao Tome government and Chinese representatives was signed on Tuesday on the premises of the former Chinese Embassy in the country's capital.

"The islands of Sao Tome must be open to the world, making friends and partnerships," said Liberato Moniz, who represented President Manuel Pinto da Costa at the signing.

Sao Tome Public Works Minister Osvaldo Abreu said Chinese businessmen and industrialists would soon arrive in the country under the agreement and that a planned $400 million deepwater port could be a target for potential collaboration.

Sao Tome and Principe's tiny island economy is heavily dependent on cocoa exports but its location in the middle of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea has raised interest in its potential as a possible future oil and gas producer.

Sao Tome officials did not say whether the new cooperation deal with Beijing would affect diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

The People's Republic of China says separately ruled Taiwan has no right to diplomatic recognition as it is part of China.

The two have been governed separately since the Communist Party won the Chinese civil war in 1949, and the Nationalists fled across a 180-km (110-mile)-wide strait to Taiwan.

But China and Taiwan have signed a series of landmark trade and economic deals since China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou was elected Taiwan's president in 2008.

To maintain that more friendly momentum, the two sides have since observed an unofficial truce in the competition to court diplomatic recognition.

Costa Rica was the most recent nation to recognise Beijing in 2007, leaving Taiwan with 23 allies ranging in size from Paraguay to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru. (Reporting by Ricardo Neto; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Joe Bavier, editing by Mark Heinrich)