Since independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen took over the Taiwanese presidency in 2016, a number of Taipei’s longtime allies including Panama, Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso have severed diplomatic ties.
The ignominy of this slew of setbacks to Taiwan’s international prominence has eased slightly following a show of solidarity from King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch and leader of the island’s only remaining African ally, Swaziland. Tsai visited the southern African kingdom in April, and now the Swaziland monarch is in Taiwan on a reciprocal visit.
The king, who is in Taiwan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s diplomatic alliance with the island, has been welcomed by President Tsai with considerable pomp and ceremony.
The highlight of the king’s state visit was Thursday’s passing-out ceremony and inspection of the island’s ongoing Han Kuang exercise. The annual exercise trains and prepares the Taiwanese military to resist potential Chinese aggression. It marked the first time a foreign head of state has reviewed a war game on the island.
Tsai stood alongside the king during Thursday’s event at a key air force base in Taichung, where amphibious troops fended off a simulated invasion, with drones requisitioned from civilians also deployed.
More than 4,000 personnel were deployed in the exercise, while drones flew overhead to provide battlefield surveillance and construction workers practiced repairing an airbase runway.
This year’s Han Kuang exercise ends on Friday.
Tsai hosted a welcoming ceremony for visiting Swazi King Mswati III in Taipei.
Observers say the sight of a foreign leader standing alongside Tsai, inspecting an anti-invasion drill could send a message to Beijing, which is known for its tried and tested tactic of “buying up” Taiwan’s allies.
King Mswati’s son, Prince Buhlebenkhosi Dlamini, is a postgraduate student at Taiwan’s Shih Chien University majoring in finance.
Tsai’s office had invited other diplomatic allies to observe the drill, but attendees were mostly restricted to those nations’ low-level representatives and military attachés already stationed in Taiwan, a government source told Taipei-based Liberty Times.
Beijing has called on Swaziland to ditch Taipei by September, when it is going to host a summit of African leaders.