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St Lucia delegation leaves for China to sign new aid package

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August 23 CASTRIES, St Lucia (AP) - A government delegation from the tiny Caribbean island of St Lucia left for Beijing yesterday to sign a new economic aid package with China, officials said.The team, led by St Lucia Foreign Affairs Minister Petrus Compton, is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice President Zeny Qingong and other officials after arriving tomorrow, a government statement said.

The week-long trip will culminate with the two countries signing an agreement for more Chinese aid to St Lucia, the statement said, without specifying the size of the assistance or what it would be used for.

Chinese Ambassador to St Lucia Gu Huaming also declined to give an exact figure when reached for comment yesterday, but said the aid package "would total several million dollars".

Earlier this month, China announced it would build a US$10 million (EC$27 million, euro8 million) mental hospital on the island.

St Lucia established diplomatic relations with China in 1997, breaking 13-year-old ties with the Asian country's rival, Taiwan. China has since financed a sports stadium and a free zone in St Lucia.

In recent years, China has aggressively campaigned for diplomatic recognition in the Caribbean, persuading islands to switch loyalties from Taiwan with offers of generous aid packages and promises to send tourists in what some critics have labeled "dollar diplomacy".

Although democratic Taiwan is self-governing, communist Beijing insists the island that broke away amid civil war in 1949 still is part of China.

In January, Grenada became the latest Caribbean country to establish ties with China, leaving Taiwan with only four allies in the region - Haiti, the Dominican Republic, St Kitts and St Vincent.

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