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  • President Ma returns to Taiwan, bringing "Project Benevolence and Friendship" to a conclusion
  • Date
President Ma Ying-jeou on the morning of April 18 completed a 12-day, 11-night journey to three of the ROC's allies in Africa on a trip that was codenamed "Project Benevolence and Friendship." The president delivered remarks shortly after landing at the airport, briefing listeners on the concrete results of his visits to Burkina Faso, the Republic of The Gambia, and the Kingdom of Swaziland.

In discussing efforts to bolster diplomatic alliances between the ROC and its allies in Africa, the president expressed his belief that foreign affairs work is a slow and cumulative effort. He likened this work to a large bridge, saying that if we frequently provide maintenance and upkeep, the bridge will last virtually forever. Diplomatic alliances are much the same, he said. The president added that during this trip he held discussions with the leaders of the three African nations, and in each of the countries signed a joint communiqué with substantive content. These documents highlighted the consensus points reached between the ROC and the respective nations on a variety of issues.

Secondly, the president said he had expressed his gratitude for the longstanding support provided by our diplomatic partners in speaking on behalf of the ROC in the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as in other international venues. The president stated that the loyalty of our allies and their willingness to take the initiative in assisting us is something that we will never forget.

Speaking about efforts to strengthen cooperation and assistance projects with our allies, President Ma mentioned that the history of the ROC's assistance to Africa dates back some 50 years, and that support for this aid transcends political affiliation, for it is carried out in the interest of the nation. Over the years, assistance has been provided in a number of areas, including medicine and health care, agriculture, vocational training, public health, and other projects launched more recently. The president particularly mentioned the "Light for Africa" project that is being carried out in Burkina Faso and the Republic of The Gambia. This initiative has not only been extremely well-received in both of these countries, but also has won the attention of the European Union, which has expressed its willingness to engage in similar activities. President Ma noted that this project bypasses the need for traditional power plants, and seeks instead to directly employ solar power to address power shortages in these countries. The solar powered lamps provide light by which students can study in the evening, thereby enabling these young people to have an opportunity to create better lives for themselves, he said.

Turning to the fruits of Taiwan's foreign assistance policies, President Ma stated that the success of the vocational training centers established in Africa by the ROC has been impressive. For instance, he pointed out that the students trained at the ROC-sponsored training centers have higher passing rates than their counterparts from other training institutes when taking local exams to become technicians. In addition, President Ma said that the sewing classes sponsored by the ROC in the Kingdom of Swaziland not only offer an avenue for women in remote communities to supplement their income, but also help to generate greater status and dignity for women in their households.

President Ma said that the ROC's commitment to providing timely humanitarian assistance has also been well-received. He mentioned that climate change has led to famine in Burkina Faso and the Republic of The Gambia. At the same time, since the coup d'état in Mali, nearly 40,000 Malian refugees have crossed the border into Burkina Faso. Given the unique nature of this situation, the president said, the ROC decided it was important to provide immediate assistance. This timely financial aid will be remembered by our allies, and will also help to cement even closer bilateral bonds, he said.

The president also described cultural projects between the ROC and African countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has implemented an international youth ambassador program via which youth from Taiwan visit Africa, and Taiwan provides scholarships to African youth so they can come and study in Taiwan. Many of the outstanding students who come to Taiwan use the training they receive here to contribute to their nation's development upon their return, he said. At the same time, these individuals have become Taiwan's best friends in their homelands and help promote bilateral relations. This, President Ma said, shows that the government's decision to expand the Taiwan scholarships initiative has been the correct one.

President Ma also spoke about the "sports diplomacy" in which he engaged with his counterparts on this trip. He said that this has helped to establish a unique type of relationship between him and the leaders from these African nations, helping to foster mutual friendship. "Sports diplomacy" has yielded unexpected results, the president said, pointing out that Swaziland's King Mswati III on April 17 told him that his office received many calls of support after the local media reported on His Majesty's jog with him in the morning. Consequently, King Mswati III has decided to strengthen promotion of athletic activities, he remarked.

The president said that this trip was also important in terms of recognizing the work of overseas compatriots in these nations, as well as the work of members of various assistance and charitable groups operating in the African countries. President Ma remarked that during this trip he saw many people who could be considered spiritual successors of Albert Schweitzer, for they are fully committed to providing service without regard for remuneration. Many of these individuals devote their entire lives to helping people in need, he said. The president said that he was extremely moved by what he saw, and added that we need to cherish our fellow citizens who act so nobly.

President Ma stressed that the aforementioned achievements shine light on the important significance of this journey. The president said that the "viable diplomacy" which he adopted upon taking office four years ago has helped to invigorate the economy, and has also put an end to the state of confrontation that had cast a pall over the Taiwan Strait for decades. President Ma said that the "Light for Africa" project has also generated new business opportunities for Taiwan companies and is boosting their willingness to invest. He pointed out that in the past, cross-strait relations constituted a burden in the ROC's foreign affairs work. Now, however, the improvement in cross-strait relations has become an asset, not only helping to increase space for Taiwan in the international community, but also making us even more willing to pursue closer ties with the other side of the Taiwan Strait, thus forming a virtuous circle. President Ma also remarked that quite a few of the ROC's allies have praised the ROC for its adoption of this policy, since they can still engage in economic and trade activities with mainland China even as they maintain formal diplomatic relations with the ROC. This sort of development is beneficial to both sides, he said.

The president commented that on this, his first trip to Africa, he saw firsthand the fruits of many of the policies promoted by the ROC. Certain problems have been exposed, however, and they need to be handled as quickly as possible. He said that while in Africa and on the airplane he frequently met with people to discuss how to resolve issues and maximize the impact of our assistance projects. The president specially thanked the people of Taiwan for their encouragement and support, remarking that this helped to generate high morale and excitement throughout the journey, and helped ensure that the objectives of the trip were met. At the same time, President Ma expressed his appreciation to the leaders of various government agencies who provided overwhelming support and assistance during the course of the trip. Thanks to their efforts, the trip was very successful.

Among those on hand to greet President Ma upon his arrival back in Taiwan were Vice President Vincent C. Siew, Vice President-elect Wu Den-yih, Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Secretary-General to the President Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Ko Kuang-yueh (葛光越), and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuoyu (董國猷), as well as ambassadors to the ROC from Burkina Faso, the Republic of The Gambia, and the Kingdom of Swaziland.
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