The People’s Republic of China is tightening the political vice on Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies. In the last month two Pacific friends of Taiwan, both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, switched relations to Beijing. This compounds Taipei’s other losses of four other friends over the past two years.
But as Beijing’s bullying and shameless dollar diplomacy towards Taiwan’s small and largely poor friends, the diplomatic isolation of the Taipei government may cause an unintended political backlash as Taiwan heads to the polls for presidential elections in January 2020.
Taiwan’s hemorrhaging international presence, now down to 15 countries mostly in Central America, the Caribbean and Pacific, may well reignite the smoldering embers of Taiwan separatism. Though President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has long nurtured separatist and independence-minded elements, she has nonetheless governed judiciously not trying to directly provoke the Chinese dragon. This differs in style and substance from the previous DPP administration between 2000-08 who recklessly relished prodding the People’s Republic.
The fact that the Republic of China on Taiwan is being diplomatically suffocated by Mainland China may reinvigorate the dormant debate of Taiwan’s identity and thus in effect, backfire on Beijing’s intent.
Naturally in the mantra of the People’s Republic, there is but one China, Taiwan remains an “errant Province,” and any moves towards “Taiwan independence” or “separatism” would trigger the immediate wrath of the dragon. Significantly Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan “back to the Motherland.”
Thus the status of Taiwan remains part of the PRC’s core national interests.
Since Tsai’s DPP assumed office in 2016, Taiwan has lost seven allies; Panama, Dominican Republic, Sao Tome, Burkina Faso, El Salvador and now the Solomon Islands and Kiribati. Though I would argue Panama was the biggest setback, the fact remains that Taiwan needs numbers.
Without formal de jure recognition the Republic of China on Taiwan goes from the political wilderness into a dangerous limbo as one of the very attributes of its own state sovereignty comes into question: international recognition.
Even two years after the Republic of China lost its United Nations seat in October 1971, Taiwan was still recognized by 39 countries still among them the United States, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, South Africa and Costa Rica. But by 1977 Taipei maintained ties with 23 states versus the Mainland’s 111.
As has been the case since the early 1990s, Taiwan’s allies had presented the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with a letter to cover “firm support for Taiwan’s participation in the UN.” This year 11 of Taipei’s friends urged the Secretary-General to formulate appropriate measures for Taiwan’s participation as soon as possible, and “to rectify the UN’s unreasonable and exclusionary approach toward Taiwan.” Such exclusionary practices bar even Taiwanese nationals from taking tours of the UN headquarters in New York! The appeal again fell on fallow ground.
Nonetheless, during the recently concluded Assembly debate, 10 of Taipei’s diplomatic friends publicly raised the issue of Taiwan from the marble rostrum of the 193 member UN General Assembly.
As Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk stated, “The Republic of the Marshall Islands, strongly affirms our close relationship with Taiwan, and this lasting friendship between our free and democratic nations is truly unstoppable.”
Following the Kiribati rupture, Taipei’s Foreign Ministry stated, “The main goal driving the Chinese government’s continued campaign to push Taiwan’s allies to sever diplomatic relations is to suppress and reduce Taiwan’s international presence, thereby forcing the Taiwanese people accept the ‘one country, two systems’ framework and recognize China as its suzerain in the international community.”
President Tsai scornfully rejected “one country, two systems” in a National Day address. The Nationalist Party opposition stated, “The KMT has always opposed the ‘one country, two systems’ framework and Taiwanese independence.”
By restricting Taiwan’s formal diplomatic ties and choking the island democracy’s international space, the Beijing government is creating precisely the conditions it wishes to avoid; namely stirring up the political genie of Taiwanese separatism. This combined with China’s bullying policies towards Hong Kong and it becomes painfully laughable that Beijing’s One Party State is trying to woo democratic Taiwan.
Taiwan’s presidential elections in January will offer that choice between President Tsai’s DPP and an energized Nationalist Party (KMT) alternative which could stabilize the status quo.
Beijing is still basking in the afterglow of the celebrations over the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic. Yet will Chairman Xi Jinping’s tub-thumping nationalism “score its own goal,” when it comes to winning over Taiwan?