There may be a diplomatic truce between Taiwan and China, but that has not stopped both sides from seeking to win the affection of the Scottish government. On Sept. 18 next year, Scotland will hold a referendum on whether it is to remain part of the UK or become an independent nation-state, and this has brought increased attention from both diplomatic missions in the capital, Edinburgh.
Since the early 1950s, Taipei and Beijing have competed with each other to win the diplomatic allegiance of countries around the world, with China gaining ascendancy in its campaign after it replaced Taiwan as a member of the UN Security Council in 1971.
The years 2000 to 2008 under then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party saw an increase in tensions across the Taiwan Strait and led to the loss of several of Taiwan’s key diplomatic allies, including Chad, Senegal and Costa Rica. With President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party taking over the administration in 2008, there has been a calming of tensions and a diplomatic truce between the two sides has been observed, while economic and cultural relations have increased.
However, it is unclear how the diplomatic truce affects newly formed nation-states, although a prominent example in recent years is that of South Sudan, which signed a joint communique with China days after its secession from Sudan was agreed in 2011.
As such, given that the Scottish government has been trying to demonstrate through recent actions and rhetoric that it would be responsible, outward-looking and respectful of international norms and conventions, it would be most irregular if it were to recognize Taiwan come next year. However, this has not stopped Taiwan from trying to establish as strong a relationship as possible.
Taiwan has been especially keen to build relations with the Scots and the Scottish parliament since it was inaugurated as a devolved chamber of the British parliament in 1999, following a referendum in 1997 and the Scotland Act of 1998. To date, the work of the Taipei Representative Office in Edinburgh (a subdivision of the Taipei Representative Office in London) has included:
‧ building economic relations;
‧ twinning Scottish high schools with high schools in Taiwan;
‧ building academic relationships between universities in Scotland and Taiwan, particularly the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University;
‧ inviting members of the Scottish parliament on all-expenses paid trips to Taiwan; and
‧ designing and registering the “Taiwan Scottish” tartan in 2011
It is these final two points that I would like to pick up on.
Taiwan has hosted a cross-party group of Scottish MPs every second year since the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999. From other examples of this practice by Taiwan, we can say with certainty that these trips are intended to raise the profile of Taiwan internationally, increase awareness of cross-strait issues from Taiwan’s point of view and promote Taiwan as a place of business and study.
However, beyond the generic hosting of foreign politicians, Taiwan has appeared keen to stress the contribution that Scots have made to Taiwan, with the careers of James Laidlaw Maxwell (1836 to 1921) and the Reverend Thomas Barclay (1849 to 1935) of particular prominence.