Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Taipei’s messy gunboat diplomacy

By Sidi Sanneh

There is growing demand from Taiwanese politicians for the government to take full account of all of the outstanding loans owed by former allies with the view to reclaiming them.

There appears to be growing frustration in Taipei over outstanding debts owed by former diplomatic allies. The Gambia has now joined the ranks. Despite successful court battles and lawsuit victories by Taiwan against former allies, some of whom have refused to repay their loans, there is still more than US$150 million in outstanding loans that is being subsidized by Taiwanese taxpayers. How long Taiwan will be saddled with these loans that taxpayers must continue to subsidize before additional legal measures are taken — if additional legal recourse is available to government — is anybody’s guess.

While Taiwan is still recovering from a diplomatic thunderbolt that struck almost two weeks ago from the direction of Banjul, there is obvious self-assessment and diagnostics being carried out to establish what actually happened, and why neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the foreign affairs establishment, nor the embassy staff in Banjul saw it coming.

Like in any messy marriage breakup, there is always enough blame to go around with the unavoidable fingerpointing, and the 18-year Taiwan-Gambia relationship is no exception. Recriminations have started emerging from sources that do not wish to be identified revealing additional loans that the Gambia may have contracted with the Export-Import Bank of the Republic of China totaling US$20 million. What the amount was for is not yet clear, but it must have been for the procurement of goods and services originating from Taiwan.

Is it possible that all or a portion of theUS$20 million from the bank went toward the procurement of the three boats “donated” to the Gambian navy by Taiwan to replace the previous four vessels delivered in 2009? If these were outright gifts, then what was the loan spent on?

As a Gambian eloquently put it on my Facebook page: “I hope someday soon, Taiwan would come out, not in a retaliatory fashion, but in the name of accountability, to tell us some of the things they have done for/with the regime in Banjul.”

“That shouldn’t be seen as breach of any [diplomatic] confidentiality, but instead being accountable to the Gambian people who are going to bear the brunt of the loan repayment,” he said.

It should be noted that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) agreed to the deal to replace four 50-ton Dvora class (known in Taiwan as Hai Ou or Seagull) during his visit to Banjul in April last year. One of these 50-ton vessels reportedly “suffered serious damage,” suspected to have been linked to the 2005 massacre of 50 African nationals, including 44 Ghanaians.

According to diplomat.com, the group of African nationals was reportedly picked up by Gambian naval vessels in international waters, transported to the Gambia and hacked up by “security forces, axes, machetes and other weapons. A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report linked Jammeh to this heinous crimes.

Jammeh withdrew Gambia’s membership from the Commonwealth last month, and abruptly severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It could all be attributed to coincidence, and it may not all be. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that in due course that Taiwan’s government will shed light on these loans, particularly as reports start to emerge suggesting that some of these marine assets have found their way into Moroccan waters, where they are being operated privately — assets meant for the Gambia and the Gambian navy to ensure, in the words of the Gambian vice president in receiving these vessels, as quoted by the local newspaper, The Point: “That our territorial waters are well protected, together with our marine resources, and address banditry at seas as well as deter or punish the criminals.”

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