St. John’s Antigua- In a rare moment of unanimity, both Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and Opposition leader Lester Bird have come out in support of the Chinese Mission’s objection to the use of the Taiwanese flag by a group of protestors who flew the symbol outside the local Chinese Embassy to demonstrate their dissatisfaction over the controversial Chinese funded power plant deal.
While Bird was first to express his disapproval of the development, the PM’s communications team followed late yesterday saying, “The Office of the Prime Minister notes with great concern the demonstration outside of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China on Monday 16th April by a faction within the Opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP).”
The PM noted the concern relates particularly to “the parading of flags associated with Tibet and Taiwan and chants accusing the People’s Republic of China of holding these two regions hostage and shouting general anti-China sentiments.”
Agreeing with earlier sentiments of Madam Zhaofeng Wang, the First Secretary at the Embassy, PM Spencer said the actions of the Lone Wolf’s Protestors group demonstrates interference in China’s internal affairs. He called it an attack on the “excellent relations” between Antigua & Barbuda and China.
The PM’s communiqué reaffirmed that Antigua & Barbuda supports the One China policy and went further to call on the ALP leadership to follow suit.
However, prior to the government communiqué, the ALP had publicly given such reassurance on OBSERVER Radio.
Bird, a former foreign minister, disassociated his party from the use of the Taiwanese flag but said he could not comment regarding the use of the Tibetan flag since the party had no discussions about it.
Speaking about the actions of the ALP-aligned picketers, Bird said, “I am not disavowing the group. I’m just saying that the idea of having the flag of Taiwan and giving the impression that the Labour Party might be condoning it, I just want to make it very clear and pellucid that we do not … We are supportive of the People’s Republic of China.”
The former two-term prime minister said even if there is a difference of opinion that officials have not been forthcoming in terms of what transpired in the power plant debacle, the party would have preferred to keep the Taiwan flag out of the protest.
“We do not believe in having the flag waving in front of the embassy … We want to make it clear that we do not accept that as a way forward as protest,” Bird said.
Bird further reiterated, “People have the constitutional right to demonstrate their positions on it, but as far as we are concerned it is unfortunate for the Taiwanese flag to be used by any group which could be affiliated with the Labour Party because it may give the impression that we are (reneging) from our position as a government and our position as the opposition.”
Meantime, ALP Chairman Gaston Browne echoed Bird’s sentiments regarding the party’s position on Antigua & Barbuda’s relationship with China.
“The ALP respects our diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China and is in full support of the One China policy. Diplomatic relations were first established in 1983 with China as a result of the foresight of our late father of the nation Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr and we would do absolutely nothing to undermine this relationship,” Browne said.
He said the ALP recognizes China as one of the country’s most important development partners.
At the same time, Browne said he would not comment on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the picketers’ actions as “they are private citizens.”
The group has been picketing outside the Embassy once a week for several weeks, calling on the government to release comprehensive details of the US $47 million deal for the power plant, its equipment and substation.