China not behind Gambia ties cut: Taiwan leader

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Friday denied China was behind Gambia's surprise decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which left the island with a dwindling number of allies.

"There were no signs ... before Gambia's cutting ties (with Taiwan), it is an isolated incident and based on the information from various sources, China did not interfere," Mr Ma told a briefing in Taipei.

He was responding to a question on concerns in Taiwan on whether China was involved in the diplomatic setback and whether Gambia's move could trigger a "domino effect" among the island's remaining 22 allies.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh caught Taiwan unawares last week when he said his government had broken off diplomatic ties after 18 years owing to "strategic national interest".

Expressing "shock and regret" at the decision, Taipei sent two senior diplomats to Gambia in an attempt to rescue the relationship, but their request to meet Jammeh was twice rejected, foreign ministry officials said.

China, which has growing investments and influence in Africa, swiftly denied it put pressure on Gambia, but said support for "the peaceful reunification of China is an irreversible trend".

Since taking office five years ago on a Beijing-friendly platform, Mr Ma has promoted a diplomatic truce with China, aimed at preventing the former bitter rivals from luring away each other's allies with hefty financial aid packages.

"The viable diplomacy policy is effective and we think we should continue to promote it," Mr Ma said on Friday.

Lingering hostilities remain between Taiwan and China following their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, although tensions have eased markedly since Mr Ma assumed power in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

Under Mr Ma's term, Taiwan and China have signed 19 agreements in trade, judicial assistance and tourism but Mr Ma reiterated on Friday that the timing was not right for the two sides to move to political talks or conclude a peace treaty.

Beijing still claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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