Costa Rica's Arias makes first official China visit

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BEIJING, Oct 24 (Reuters) Costa Rican president Oscar Arias was welcomed to Beijing with fanfare, just four and a half months after his country switched allegiance to the People's Republic of China from long-time ally Taiwan.

Costa Rica recognised China in June for the first time, breaking an alliance with the government in Taipei that pre-dated the Chinese Communists' victory over the Nationalists in 1949.

Arias told Chinese president Hu Jintao he had considered switching alliances during his first tenure as Costa Rica's president in the late 1980s, when the United States and Soviet Union were still facing off at the end of the Cold War.

''At that time I was already considering the possibility of creating a relationship with China but we already had too many front lines, and so I didn't think that that was the appropriate time to make that decision,'' Arias said.

''As a Costa Rican I am very honoured that we're the first Central American country to establish a formal relationship with the great country of the People's Republic of China.'' Hu and Arias signed 11 agreements, for investment, trade, banking, technology and culture, after reviewing Chinese servicemen as cannons fired a salute in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square.

Beijing and Taipei compete for the allegiance of mostly small, relatively poor countries with preferential loans and investment contracts.

Under the ''One China'' policy, Beijing insists nations cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan.

All but 24 now recognise China rather than Taiwan, which left the United Nations when China was admitted in 1971.

REUTERS SG BD1921

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