TAIPEI, Oct 3 (Reuters) Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is to visit diplomatic allies in the South Pacific next week, a trip designed to stop the island's remaining handful of diplomatic allies from switching recognition to arch-rival China.
During his trip from October 11 to 14, probably his last as president before stepping down next May, Chen will travel to the Marshall Islands for the Second Taiwan Pacific Allies Summit.
The visit is aimed at shoring up ties between Taiwan and six tiny island nations that recognise it diplomatically.
''This is because China is always looking for opportunities in the diplomatic tug-of-war to take our partners away,'' said Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman David Wang.
China, which has seen self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, wants to isolate Taiwan internationally and pressure it into unification by making diplomatic allies switch ties to Beijing.
Taiwan's allies, which the island leadership sees as key to its legitimacy against China, have dwindled to 24, mostly small countries in poor regions, compared to China's 170.
Chen has made standing up to China a top priority since taking office in 2000.
Summit discussions will cover sustainable development and climate change, including rising ocean levels that threaten to reduce the land mass of the low-lying allied nations of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, Wang said.
Taiwan also has relations with the South Pacific nations of Nauru, Palau and the Solomon Islands.
REUTERS SG HT1142