Side-effects of ‘truce’
The WikiLeaks cables highlight the precarious nature of the cross-strait diplomatic truce as 12 of Taiwan’s 23 diplomatic allies identified relations with Taipei as less than secure. While the diplomatic truce, in effect since 2008, has effectively ended the explicit competition for diplomatic spoils, the cables address an often-ignored underlying dynamic. Simply put, many other nations have little incentive to support the truce, gaining greatly from their leverage in the diplomatic competition.
According to my own research, historically as a country’s exports grew, they became far more likely to recognize China over Taiwan. Countries on the margins, however, could use their position to encourage a bidding war over recognition as evident over the past three decades. Although many countries shroud recognition in grandiose claims, such as mutual respect for democracies, the underlying incentives for a bidding war are evident in the number of countries that have switched recognition more than once, including two countries — Senegal and the Central African Republic — which have switched five times since 1962.
Even if both sides of the Taiwan Strait sincerely intend to hold up the diplomatic truce, countries have their own incentives to push the envelope. For decades, Taipei could easily match or surpass aid packages to developing countries; however, Beijing now has the resources and will to make similar offers abroad. The potential benefits of Chinese assistance are not lost on those few holdouts surrounded by recipient countries. For example, China’s willingness to send humanitarian assistance to Haiti (a longtime Taiwan ally) following the earthquake there in January last year simply gave Port-au-Prince another reason to consider breaking relations in the hopes of larger assistance packages in the future. In addition, although unlikely, developing countries could drop recognition unilaterally in an effort to restart a form of dollar diplomacy.
The cross-strait diplomatic truce has benefited both sides while allowing Taiwan to focus on improving substantive unofficial relations, which are far more important for the nation’s long-term interests. Ignoring the influential role of the recognizing countries, however, makes even a well-intentioned truce difficult to maintain.
Here’s my rebuttal to Francis Fukuyama’s “The Sept. 11 attacks were less significant than we had feared” (Sept. 13, page 9).
Haven’t the attacks by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq involved the killing of innocent people for its own sake? Hasn’t the number of these victims topped those killed at the World Trade Center?
It amazes me that Fukuyama, a Japanese-American, has conveniently forgotten which terrorist gang used the kamikaze tactics on Pearl Harbor and which terrorist gang, in response, dropped weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Weren’t both actions carried out to terrorize people? Modern technological societies have been vulnerable well before the World Trade Center attacks.
The US remains the sole possessor of nuclear weapons to have intentionally used them on people. Which country is a very scary place again?