Wed, Mar 23, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Losing allies but winning the ‘war’

By Masahiro Matsumura

China’s pre-emptive re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the Gambia, a former ally of Taiwan, on March 17 has pressed president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to be more prudent than ever with her China stance.

Now she must focus on how and to what degree to distance herself from outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policy of appeasement toward China, that the electorate judged excessive and hasty, as is evidenced by the results of January’s elections.

Beijing’s abrupt move might be geared toward starting another round of the “diplomatic war” to reduce Taipei’s allies in number, further narrowing the nation’s international space. Due to Beijing’s bulldozing political pressure, only 22 small powers and micro-states recognize the de jure statehood of the Republic of China (ROC).

This is a major impediment to its participation as a full member state in international organizations, particularly the UN. Otherwise, Taiwan’s polity fulfils all the conditions to be recognized as a de jure state, including territory, population and effective government.

Unfortunately, Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation will continue and could possibly deepen, given the growing need of the Chinese Communist Party to rely on nationalistic appeals to the nation’s former grandeur — centered on unification of Taiwan — for legitimation and survival.

China’s populace has a deep scar on its national pride that is a result of a century of “humiliation” by imperialist powers, compounded by snowballing widespread popular discontent with aggravating socioeconomic disparities and unbalanced development.

Otherwise, Taiwan would be welcomed as an independent nation that would enhance total Chinese presence, power and influence in world politics, comparable to the five major Anglo-American nations: the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

True, it was essential for post-UN recognized Taiwan to retain as many diplomatic allies as possible to maintain the international and domestic legitimacy of the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime that imposed martial law and committed extensive White Terror-era atrocities.

However, since the lifting of martial law in 1987, the nation has undergone significant liberalization and democratization. For the past two decades, in particular, it has experienced two peaceful changes of government, in 2000 and 2008 — hopefully to be followed by a third in May — and built up solid civilian control of the military, and transformed itself into a fully fledged democracy with extensive reach around the world.

Thus Taiwan’s standing is well-established internationally, if not in inter-governmental relations, and it is treated by the international community accordingly.

Arguably, Taiwan no longer has to be hypersensitive about facing a loss of diplomatic allies. Should they be halved in number, its standing would undergo little significant challenge.

The US, Japan and other major advanced democracies all have unofficial, but unflinching relationships with Taiwan, on which additional derecognitions by several small powers and/or micro-states exert little significant effect.

Also, its sole security guarantor, the US, unilaterally forms a semi-alliance with the nation based on the Taiwan Relations Act, a domestic legal instrument. Thus Taipei just needs to focus on retaining several core diplomatic allies, including the Vatican, while valuing all the existing diplomatic allies.

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