Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Fair-weather allies deserve China

In Wellington on Wednesday, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters attacked Taiwan for its "checkbook diplomacy," claiming there was "irrefutable" evidence for Taiwanese skulduggery in the Solomon Islands, though of course he provided none.

But put aside Peters' refusal to directly criticize China for its own activities in the South Pacific, let alone Africa. He is a maverick minister who, despite his office, is not part of that government's Cabinet. And he has turned fear of potential immigrants -- Muslims and Asians in particular -- into a very useful electoral weapon. He also has a history of playing one side against the other for tremendous political gain. His opinions can be safely ignored.

Of more interest is the report that Nauru and Palau are wavering as allies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied this, but that means little. The sense of insecurity and cynicism remains, as happens every time these reports emerge.

Elsewhere, enough time has passed to conclude that Washington and other powers have no interest in turning China's involvement in Sudanese and Chadian military affairs into a debating point -- which is why Taiwan's loss of Chad as an ally on Aug. 5 has barely rated a mention outside this country.

At some point, as China turns the screws on the dwindling number of countries that recognize Taipei, the foreign ministry will need to take a new approach. Given that Washington seems unconcerned by the destabilizing effect of ally-poaching, especially to the cross-strait "status quo," perhaps the ministry might consider a more radical course of action to make Taiwan's international position clear.

Do we need an ally if it is incapable of genuine commitment? If the ministry were to announce that bipartisan political support would be necessary for the ally to receive aid, and that cash aid were to cease -- replaced by boosted development programs and closely audited transfer of material aid -- then what would be the result?

Most of the allies would jump ship. This would serve several purposes: a lot of money would be saved; long-term ties with remaining allies could be consolidated (including more generous and tailor-made programs looking well beyond whatever electoral cycles apply); there would be a decrease in the morale-sapping unilateral severing of ties; and the "status quo" would be disrupted so dramatically that even Washington would take notice.

This action is also radical in that it would require the ministry to deepen relations with remaining allies in a manner far more substantial than the pat declarations and symbolism that Taiwanese are used to.

When Chad broke off ties with Taipei, the ministry distinguished between the actions of the government and the fortunes of more than a dozen Chadian students here, allowing them to continue their studies and taking with them a better understanding of what Taiwan is and what it offers. This is a reversal of a policy that applied most recently to Senegalese students, and suggests the ministry is looking for more sophisticated ways to counter Chinese propaganda.

No diplomat would be so naive as to think that morality determines the fortunes of nations. As a senior US official in Taiwan was recently overheard saying: the mighty prevail and the weak submit. Very true, but there is more to it than this, because decision-making processes in mature democracies are informed by more than immediate military and economic imperatives. Somewhere in the mix there remains a little room for things like patriotism and honor. Their role is not to be laughed at.

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