Sun, Mar 27, 2016 - Page 8 News List

The subtext to Beijing’s poaching of the Gambia

By Lee In-ming 李英明

As the day of president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration approaches, more attention is being paid to the sparring that has been going on between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Gambia when there were still about two months to go until May 20 has something to do with the inauguration and it is meant as a warning. However, it seems to also imply some kind of expectation — the hope that after May 20, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will be able to go on developing along the lines of the “consensus” that has been meticulously constructed over the past few years.

First, China did not establish diplomatic relations with one of the nation’s existing diplomatic partner countries, showing that Beijing does not yet want to engage in diplomatic conflict with Taiwan.

Second, that China has not directly undermined Taiwan’s diplomatic relations shows that it still wants to tell people that its “unspoken agreement” with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to maintain a diplomatic truce has not been terminated ahead of time, since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the Gambia is not in direct conflict with the truce.

Third, since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the Gambia is not intended to start an immediate diplomatic contest with Taiwan, it is mainly intended as a warning.

China originally hoped to get dialogue between the DPP and CCP on track before the annual sessions of the Chinese National People’s Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

However, as far as China is concerned, Tsai and the DPP did not grasp this opportunity, but only said a few abstract things about maintaining the “status quo” and handling cross-strait relations in accordance with the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution.

China’s Gambia gambit is probably meant to put pressure on Tsai and the DPP in the hope that in the statements made at the time of Tsai’s inauguration, they will converge with the path and direction that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have established over the past eight years, which can promote cross-strait peace, stability and development. The establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the Gambia therefore also entails expectations.

These subtle expectations suggest that China does not want to have a head-on collision with Tsai and the DPP.

More than half of Taiwan’s allies are probably waiting for China’s foreign relations officials to cast a loving eye in their direction. To expect the US’ and Japan’s barely discernible so-called support in a confrontation with China might be a case of extremely wishful thinking.

China is sending a message that undermining Taiwan’s diplomatic relations and making it suffer an avalanche of diplomatic break-offs would not be difficult to achieve; it is only a question of whether China wants to do it.

China’s biggest concern is likely that it does not want to see Taiwanese once more having a sense of tragedy about China squeezing Taiwan’s international space. Therefore, unless the two sides’ common understandings and expectations of the future collapse completely, China has no intention of actively undermining the nation’s foreign relations.

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