Once the “pariah bond” was ruptured by the end of apartheid, the outcome was inevitable.
Economic considerations were about the only card Taipei had left to play. However, while South Africa’s trade with Taiwan was at roughly twice the volume of its trade with Beijing at the time of the split, the new ANC government was clearly thinking ahead.
Taiwanese officials attempted to scaremonger by suggesting that trade with the PRC would actually damage the South African economy as China was a direct competitor. Naturally, this desperate last gambit failed. As of last year, the PRC remains South Africa’s No. 1 trade partner, with two-fifths of the combined volume of US$19.4 billion flowing in Pretoria’s direction.
Across the world, memories appeared short last week as representatives of political parties that vilified Mandela engaged in hagiography. However, the old guard of the KMT is on even shakier ground than Britain’s Tories when it comes to apotheosizing Mandela.
As a pair of pariahs, Taiwan and apartheid-era South Africa were back-scratching bedfellows. Along with Israel, Taiwan facilitated the Botha government’s nuclear program in the 1980s, while the international community stood back. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) hailed the regime as a bulwark against communism while acquiescing in the perpetuation of a wicked system of repression. And why not? For in the subjugation of a people by a minority, immigrant regime, it was presented with its own reflection.
By the end of the 1980s, the ANC already had ties with twice as many nations as South Africa. Some countries were later than others jumping the sinking ship of apartheid. Despite its last-minute attempts to salvage something from the wreckage by wooing Mandela and the ANC, the KMT government was still clinging to the railings of a rotten vessel as it went down. This should not be forgotten.
James Baron is a freelance journalist and writer. He previously worked for the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund.