Fri, Oct 28, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Diplomacy isn't just about numbers

On Tuesday, as Beijing celebrated Taiwan's Retrocession Day with great pomp, China's Foreign Ministry abruptly announced that it had re-established diplomatic relations with Senegal, one of Taiwan's African allies. Beijing may believe that resuming diplomatic ties with Dakar is a major step toward "regaining possession of its long lost territory -- Taiwan," but the announcement in fact only serves to embarrass pan-blue politicians who were participating in the event and further anger many Taiwanese.

China has used its financial, military and diplomatic muscle, and even its UN Security Council veto, as both a carrot and a stick against Taiwan's allies in its efforts to isolate Taiwan on the diplomatic front. Now, Taiwan is left with just 25 diplomatic partners, including the less-than-enthusiastic Vatican.

Taiwan's aid to its allies has fueled controversy and dollar diplomacy has come in for criticism. Countries compete to see how much they can get out of Taiwan and China, and Taipei has also faced accusations of meddling in the domestic affairs of recipient countries, only to see the financial aid sent there siphoned off into the pockets of local politicians.

Senegalese President Abodoulaye Wade hit the nail on the head when he told President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) that, "There are no friendships in the pursuit of national interests," in a candid demonstration of how cementing relations with some countries is close to impossible. In material terms, while Taiwan can offer much, China can always offer more.

Senegal's severing of diplomatic relations is a timely warning, for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Bureau are suggesting that there is a growing risk that many of the nation's remaining allies will follow suit. But this incident can also be seen as an opportunity to fundamentally reassess the viability of the nation's current foreign policy.

The number of allies at any one time has reasonable symbolic importance, and the ongoing relationship with them should be cherished and nurtured. But this should not extend to excessive use of resources on maintaining relationships that are clearly untenable. As long as Taiwan can retain an international presence, a shift in even 10 or more of the nation's allies will not have a significant impact.

A reduction in the number of allies will necessarily weaken calls for Taiwan's entry into the UN or the World Health Organization, but the key players here are the US, Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe. For this reason, a new route should be sought.

Taiwan must rid itself of the need to stress the number of its allies and instead undertake a practical assessment of its foreign policy.

After all, many countries are growing uneasy over China's conduct and beginning to more openly recognize Taiwan's economic and strategic value. They would be unwilling to see Taiwan swallowed up by China. Even though these countries do not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, strategic links and common beliefs could prove stronger than those interests based on the offering and acceptance of aid.

But before this can happen, Taiwan must prove its strategic value and its determination to defend itself. If it does not, and even if the US and Japan are unwilling to see Taiwan absorbed by China, the self-destructive behavior manifested in the legislature's repeated rejection of the arms-procurement bill will not inspire confidence or friendship in this nation's supporters.

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