From Nov. 1 to Nov. 5, China held the Beijing Summit and Ministerial Conference, which was part of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) attended by leaders and ministers from 48 African nations.
During the conference, Beijing seemed to have been at least partially placed under martial law, which might have been a warmup for what will happen during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The conference marked China's largest diplomatic effort since Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Prior to the summit, China tried to capture the hearts and minds of Taiwan's diplomatic allies in Africa by saying that they could also attend. However, none of Taiwan's five African diplomatic allies showed up.
The summit adopted a declaration which included reaffirming adherence to the "one-China" policy, requiring attendees, at least on paper, to toe China's line.
While the declaration wasn't anything new, China's lavishness in giving money to African nations has begun to seriously threatened Taiwan's diplomatic relations with its African allies.
In addition to canceling some US$10 billion in African debt, China has expanded the scale of its aid to the continent, which is set to double by 2009.
Furthermore, in the next three years, China will provide US$3 billion in preferential loans and US$2 billion in preferential buyer's credits to Africa, and it will also create a US$5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa.
China's investments in Africa appear a bit odd in light of the country's economic difficulties.
Last year's Human Development Report, released by the UN Development Program, pointed out the scale of regional inequality within China. For example, if Guizhou Province were a country, it would rank just above Namibia on the Human Development Index, while Shanghai would rank alongside Portugal.
Beijing's goals appear to include establishing an international united front against democratic nations around the world and suffocating Taiwan diplomatically.
By contrast, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs appropriated a NT$28.17 billion (US$800 million) budget for African aid this year, only a drop in the ocean compared to China's contributions. Unfortunately, even modest foreign aid by the Taiwanese government is criticized as "checkbook diplomacy" by the opposition parties.
And when the nation's president wants to break the diplomatic blockade and make a foreign visit, his plans are often revealed by the media prior to the trip, resulting in more Chinese pressure on Taiwan's allies.
Hu also used the summit in Beijing as leverage in his attempt to garner votes for Hong Kong former health chief Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) in her successful bid to become director-general of the WHO.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, which claimed 73 Taiwanese lives, Chan helped the Chinese Communist Party conceal the truth about SARS cases in China, resulting in its spread to Taiwan via Hong Kong. Taiwan is a sovereign nation and was a victim of SARS, yet had difficulty making its voice heard in the WHO.
Given Taiwan's current diplomatic predicament, it should be given plenty of leeway for secret diplomacy. Even if the whole "state affairs fund" were put to use, it still would only amount to NT$50 million (US$1.5 million) per year.
Unfortunately, the use of this budget is subject to manipulation by pro-China lawmakers. If they shamelessly reveal the identity of agents carrying out secret missions abroad, will anyone be willing to accept those missions in the future? If not, then China will have achieved its goal of isolating Taiwan.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taipei.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti
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