After China persuaded the Dominican Republic, one of the largest economies in the Caribbean region, to shift its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, some in Taiwan are saying the island’s taxpayers should thank the mainland, as otherwise their money would continue to be shelled out in this faraway nation to help keep it loyal.
Now that Beijing has dangled big carrots – low- or zero-interest loans plus grants rumored to be valued at US$3.09 billion – Taipei has suffered another diplomatic setback, in which a country that had been an ally for 77 years turned its back on Taiwan. This is the third diplomatic shift since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, after Panama and the West African nation of Sao Tomé and Principe severed ties with Taipei.
Taipei was caught off guard and humiliated as it was notified only an hour before the release of a joint China-Dominican Republic statement on the establishment of ambassadorial-level diplomatic ties, while the Taiwanese ambassador and other diplomats were given short notice to leave Santo Domingo, the capital city.
A Taiwanese naval fleet, led by the fast combat support ship Panshi, called at the Dominican Republic in April, and over the years Taipei has promised military aid totaling US$35 million, including 50 Humvees. Tsai’s predecessor Ma Ying-jeou donated some 1,000 police motorcycles and 80 ambulances during a 2015 visit.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu expressed regret over the Dominican Republic’s decision to “accept false promises of investment and aid by China” and end its 77-year-long friendship with Taiwan, while admitting at an ad hoc press conference that Beijing’s financial aid to the Latin American nation was “an astronomical figure that Taiwan cannot promise.”
He urged other nations to bear in mind Beijing’s poor record of following through with its financial pledges to Taiwan’s former allies, while condemning Beijing’s way of poaching Taipei’s allies.
Wu said Beijing’s failure to deliver on $1.4 billion of aid promised to Costa Rica to build a refinery and highways in 2007, as well as $140 million of aid pledged to Sao Tome and Principe in 2016 could serve as a lesson to Santo Domingo.
Taipei’s allies are now reduced to 19, among which the Vatican is also rumored to be preparing to ditch the island and embrace Beijing soon.
In an op-ed, the Taipei Times questioned whether the Tsai administration’s purchasing of diplomatic recognition in a losing battle of “checkbook diplomacy” with China was congruent with the government’s goal to project Taiwan on the world stage as a mature and responsible democracy and a trusted international partner. The paper prodded Taiwan authorities to beef up emergency humanitarian aid in disaster zones rather than splurging on a game with Beijing to woo allies and keep them loyal.
But analysts say Taipei is not going to lose all of its remaining friends overnight, as while Beijing is determined to outflank Taiwan and send a warning to Tsai and her cohorts, the mainland is still mindful to avoid driving a wedge between people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
It’s believed that Beijing may also offer economic concessions and other perks to Taiwanese businesspeople and students at a semi-official mainland-Taiwan forum to be held next month.
An adviser with the research organization Taiwan ThinkTank told the island’s Central News Agency that even if Beijing succeeds in goading all of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies into defection, it is nowhere closer to reclaiming the self-ruling island.