Taiwan's diplomatic ties and international presence are on the wane as Beijing moves to poach its allies and limit its participation in international bodies. Photo: Central News Agency, Taiwan

Taiwan has been preparing for the day when it has no official diplomatic allies, especially if incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen manages to secure another term in January’s presidential election, a senior official with the island’s foreign ministry told reporters on Wednesday.

The Solomon Islands and Kiribati severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan last month, with the two South Pacific island nations switching their diplomatic allegiance to Beijing.

The self-governed island has lost a total of seven allies that recognized its sovereignty over that of Beijing since the pro-independence Tsai took office in 2016, bringing the number of countries that still side with the island to a mere 15.

This who still recognize Taiwan are Eswatini, the Holy See, Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.

A recent report by Taiwan’s National Security Council said Beijing would aim to push one or two more countries to ditch their ties in the run-up to the presidential and Legislative Yuan elections in January, and that the island’s ties with Haiti and the Hold See were particularly on a shaky ground.

Beijing’s money diplomacy remains Taiwan’s primary challenge. Tsai, while on her stumping tour for re-election, attributed the diplomatic setbacks to China’s obstructionism.

Now officials and diplomats are debating what measures to take to prevent losing more allies and should the island continue to provide economic aid to developing countries when it has no formal allies.

Their fear is that when Beijing manages to dismantle Taiwan’s overseas ties and it has no allies left, the Republic of China, the island’s official name, may lose its statehood and no longer exist and Taiwan would technically be considered a province under Beijing’s one-China policy, albeit that of a province yet to be reunited.

The number of flags of diplomatic allies displayed inside the foyer of Taiwan’s foreign ministry building may continue to dwindle. Photo: WikiMedia
Taiwan's foreign ministry. Photo: Asia Times
Taiwan’s foreign ministry in Taipei. The island now has 15 allies, seven fewer than in 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen took power. Photo: Asia Times

Former American Institute in Taiwan director William Stanton told the Liberty Times that while China reportedly offered US$500 million to lure the Solomon Islands into making the switch, Taiwan must not splash out taxpayers’ money in a similar fashion to help other allies remain loyal. Rather, it should spend its limited resources wisely on programs at home and in key nations.

Asked what it should do if Taiwan loses more allies, Stanton said Taipei’s relations with major powers such as the US, Japan, Australia and Southeast Asian and European countries would matter more than the number of formal allies, and these unofficial allies would back Taiwan’s participation in international bodies, especially events and assemblies that do not require sovereign status to attend.

They would also encourage granting the island “observer status,” similar to the treatment accorded to Palestine, in other international organizations.

The Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu, four of Taiwan’s remaining allies in the Pacific, have sided with the US, UK, Canada, France and Germany in supporting Taiwan’s participation in the International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting in Montreal.

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has also passed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act to prop up Taiwan’s global presence by penalizing nations that downgrade ties with Taiwan.

“It is not necessarily true that Beijing is making more friends when getting more allies, as we have seen big pro-Taiwan demonstrations by Solomon Islanders, which is a blowback to Beijing,” said Stanton.

Despite the amiable US-Taiwan relations under Trump and Tsai, the US is “in a morally weak position” when it asks other nations not to break ties with Taipei, he said, as Washington pulled out diplomats and cut off ties with the island in 1979.

There is also room for other strategies, such as forming ties with self-declared states that are not internationally recognized, such as Somaliland and Western Sahara.

Read more: Taiwan gets ally as Prague mayor cuts Beijing ties

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