Saturday saw Chad become the latest country to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing, thereby forcing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to sever diplomatic links. Chad's decision leaves Taipei with just 24 allies and, as we are constantly reminded, these are mostly small, impoverished nations in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific.
The reason Chad offered for its decision was that it needs Beijing's help in dealing with problems created by a rebel insurgency at home and the crisis in neighboring Sudan, which has seen more than 2 million refugees flee across its borders to avoid fighting in the troubled Darfur region.
Chad needs the UN's help and therefore needs to kowtow to China, because as a permanent member of the UN Security Council it can veto any deployment of UN peacekeepers. Beijing has no doubt been applying pressure on Chad's government with regard to its ties with Taipei on this very issue.
This is not the first time that China has used this kind of tactic. In the latest example, Beijing in April threatened Haiti, one of Taiwan's allies, with the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers to block Premier Su Tseng-chang's (
The international leverage that China gains from its status at the UN, combined with its incessant "three guang" (
So what can the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do to reinforce ties with our remaining allies?
Gone are the days when countries would simply side with Taiwan because they were anti-communist or just glad to receive huge cash payments that the then Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government was willing to hand out. The opening of China to the capitalist world and its subsequent economic growth has neutralized two of the most effective tools that Taiwan employed in its decades-long game of diplomatic cat and mouse with China.
For Taiwan to retain any of its allies in the long term it is going to have to rely on diplomatic sophistication and not just dollar diplomacy.
Back in May, when the Solomon Islands selected its new prime minister following the anti-Chinese riots caused by rumors of parliamentary bribery by Taiwan and China, the opposition candidate Manasseh Sogavare said he would review ties with Taiwan if he were chosen. This was seen by many as a hint that Taiwan would lose another of its allies, but upon his victory, to everyone's surprise, Sogavere decided to stick with Taipei.
The reason Sogavare gave for his decision to maintain links was that its assistance focused on medical, agricultural and technical aid and not just the large one-off cash payments for infrastructure in cities that China offers.
But this has not prevented others in the Solomon Islands political scene from ditching a delegation to Taipei this week. Whatever Taipei does, it seems, there are no perfect solutions. Still, the government and the ministry need to heed these lessons and, notwithstanding the risks, concentrate their efforts on increasing practical aid and assistance.
In the end, however, Taiwan is also up against forces outside of its control: Allies that require UN intervention are particularly vulnerable to Chinese blackmail. It will be interesting to see if the US State Department looks upon the Chad incident as an example of the beloved cross-strait "status quo" coming under attack and appropriately lodges a protest with Beijing. Or denounces the role of Chinese arms in the conflicts in Chad and Sudan as representing the most callous exploitation of a troubled region. Then again, pigs might fly.