President Ma arrives in Panama

Panama City, June 30 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou arrived in Panama on Monday to attend the inauguration of President-elect Juan Carlos Varela on July 1. Ma was greeted at the airport by Panamanian Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez De Soto and a group of Taiwanese expatriates waving national flags of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Ma said upon his arrival that this is his fourth visit to the Central American ally and the second one as president and that he felt a sense of familiarity stepping on Panamanian soil again. Besides attending the presidential inauguration ceremony, Ma said he will also discuss ways to enhance bilateral relations and promote bilateral cooperation projects with Panamanian officials during this trip. The president stressed that he very much looked forward to further strengthening the century-old diplomatic ties between the ROC and Panama. After leaving the airport, Ma headed directly to his hotel where he hosted a luncheon for Taiwanese expatriates in the country. In his address, Ma said Taiwan has become increasingly open to the world due to improvement in cross-Taiwan Strait relations over the past several years. Since 2008, the two sides of the strait have signed 21 agreements, he noted, and following a landmark visit to China by Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi in February, China's Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun traveled to Taiwan last week. At the same time, the ROC's relations with its diplomatic allies have become more stable, and Taiwan has been able to attend the World Health Assembly as an observer since 2009, he said. On the domestic economic situation, Ma said Taiwan's economy has shown signs of a recovery since the start of this year, with economic growth projected to reach 2.98 percent. Also, the unemployment rate dropped to a six-year low at 3.85 percent in May, he said. Taiwan's stock market, meanwhile, has experienced the biggest gains since the beginning of the year among the four Asian Tigers, with the benchmark index rising to 9,393 points on June 30, its highest level in more than six and a half years, he added. This is Ma's 10th overseas trip since he first took office in 2008. Ma will also travel to El Salvador to meet with President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, before heading home via San Francisco, California. Ma's arrival has drawn media attention, not all of it accurate. Two Panamanian newspapers, La Prensa and La Estrella De Panama, mistakenly used a photo of Zhang Zhijun, who was identified in the caption as President Ma Ying-jeou, for a story on Ma's visit on their websites. The mistakes were immediately corrected after Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a complaint. Both newspapers were found to be using a story and photo provided by the Spanish news agency EFE. (By Kelven Huang and Y.F. Low)