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Cablegate: Malawi: Foreign Minister Says Cabinet has Not

VZCZCXRO7547
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #0017/01 0090805
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090805Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4947
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0069
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU CH 0005
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0013
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0021
RUESLE/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI CH 0006
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0004
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 0040

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 000017

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

AF/S FOR ELIZABETH PELLETREAU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV TW CH MI
SUBJECT: MALAWI: FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CABINET HAS NOT
CONSIDERED SWITCH FROM TAIPEI TO BEIJING YET

REF: TAIPEI 17

LILONGWE 00000017 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On Jan. 7, Ambassador met with Foreign
Minister Joyce Banda to discuss the much-reported impending
switch of recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of
China. While confirming press reports that two ministers had
made two exploratory trips to Beijing, she said the ministers
had yet to brief her on the meetings and cabinet had not
considered the topic. The Foreign Minister believed
published reports were all coming from Taiwan sources. Banda
said she would be meeting with President Mutharika on Jan. 8
and perhaps he would bring her into the loop on the topic.
Malawi has recognized the government in Taipei for 43 years
and Taiwan is a major aid partner whose absence would leave
holes in health, agriculture, and military assistance in
Malawi. Taiwanese mission contacts have already approached
USG personnel about possibilities of continuing their aid
projects if they are forced to leave the country. While
press reports tout a $6 billion USD enticement package from
China as the temptation to switch, this mirrors development
cost estimates of Mutharika's pet project, the Shire-Zambezi
waterway. The nervousness of the Taiwanese, both in Malawi
and Taiwan, the refusal by Mutharika to see FM Huang, and the
confirmation of two exploratory trips by ministers close to
the President seem to confirm that Malawi is as close as it
ever has been to switching to Beijing. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On Jan. 7, Ambassador Eastham met with Foreign
Minister Joyce Banda to discuss the much-reported potential
switch of recognition from Taipei to Beijing. FM Banda
confirmed that Mutharika gave permission for two ministers,
Henry Chimunthu Banda and Davies Katsonga, to travel to
Beijing to discuss strengthening relations with the PRC.
Banda said the government of Malawi believed it was
acceptable to talk to another member of the United Nations
and assess the situation. (Comment: Katsonga, the Minister
of Presidential and Cabinet Affairs, and Chimunthu Banda, the
Minister of Energy and Mines, are, in the Malawi context,
heavy hitters. Chimunthu Banda is leader of Government
business in the National Assembly and Katsonga's stock at
State House has risen sharply in recent months, after he
chaired the organizing committee for the late Mrs.
Mutharika's funeral in June. Among the cabinet, only Finance
Minister Gondwe has more influence with the President. End
Comment) Foreign Minister Banda continued that the ministers
had made a second follow-up trip to Beijing. She commented
that she had requested a briefing from Katsonga after both
trips but had yet to receive it. She said she would be
meeting with Mutharika on January 8 in Blantyre and believed
the topic would be on the agenda. Banda said a decision such
as switching to Beijing should also first be brought to
cabinet and thus far the topic has not been discussed. As
far as press reports, some of which quote an anonymous source
in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Banda believed that the
Taiwanese were giving information to the press.

3. (SBU) Malawi has recognized Taiwan for 43 years and as
recently as two years ago, President Mutharika was appealing
for Taiwan's full entry into the United Nations during his
address to the UN General Assembly. Furthermore, Malawians
have noted that Mutharika's political party, the Democratic
Progressive Party, took the Taiwan ruling party's name and is
rumored to receive funding as well from that source. A
pending anti-corruption case against former President Bakili
Muluzi is founded on documentary evidence of payments into
the seven-figure USD range to Muluzi from official Taiwan
bank accounts.

4. (SBU) Taiwan's exact official aid levels to Malawi are
not published and do not appear on the government Annual Debt
and Aid Report, but according to our reckoning consists
(recently) of at least:

-- $2 million USD to the Malawi Defense Force for equipment
to support the deployment to Darfur;
-- $14 million USD grant and a loan of $25.3 million USD for
the completion of a new Parliament building complex;
-- an undefined sum for upgrading and paving (by a Taiwanese
firm) the Karonga-Chitipa road in Northern Malawi;
-- building, staffing, and operating the Mzuzu Central
Hospital;

LILONGWE 00000017 002.2 OF 002


-- four used locomotives for the Central East Africa
Railway;
-- four ex-U.S. UH-1 helicopters (stalled due to sustainment
issues);
-- patrol boats for Malawi Defence Force activities on the
lake (stalled due to difficulties with Mozambique
permission to move the boats across Mozambique to Malawi);
-- numerous irrigation and agriculture projects;
-- and frequent highly-publicized donations of vehicles and
computers to various Malawi entities.

Taiwanese Department of Health officials in Malawi have
already approached the U.S. Center for Disease Control
director to inquire if the USG could take over some of
Taiwan's health care projects if they are forced to leave.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Press reports tout an offer of USD 6
billion from China. We doubt this is accurate, as it first
appeared in an unreliable internet "news" site funded by
Muluzi's party and amounts to something over four times
Malawi's annual government budget. From this side, it
appears to be a number linked to the original stated cost for
Mutharia's Shire-Zambezi waterway project to connect the
Shire river in Malawi through the Zambezi to Indian Ocean
ports in Mozambique. It also is similar in magnitude to the
recently-announced PRC fund for the Democratic Republlic of
Congo. More realistic press reports say the Chinese have
promised to fund a mult-million dollar stadium, a youth
center, a science and technology university, and take over
funding of all of Taiwan's projects. The first three of
these are dear to the President's heart.

6. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: This has the air of truth to
it. We have noted in recent months that Malawians
(government and private sector) have begun to debate the
cost/benefit balance of sticking with Taiwan in the face of
the PRC's rapid rise and its much higher profile in Africa.
In summary, we believe that Katsonga and Chimunthu Banda are
pushing in favor of the PRC. The Foreign Minister is pushing
back with her procedural insistence on a Cabinet decision.
Mutharika's refusal to see Taiwan's Foreign Minister
(explained inadequately with a statement about the short
notice of the request and the fact Mutharika is on vacation
at the moment) should be a very large red flag for the
Taiwanese toward the direction this is likely to go. Though
the decision to switch or stay with Taiwan will be
controversial, in the end, whatever number the PRC has put on
the table will be the key factor in the eventual decision.
END COMMENT.

EASTHAM

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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