When Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected to become the nation’s second Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president on Jan. 16, speculation soon emerged about the tactics China would use to browbeat Tsai into realizing that her life would be miserable unless she acted at Beijing’s beck and call.
China began by saying that adhering to the so-called “1992 consensus” — a supposed understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with both sides having their own interpretation of what “China” means — would be its bottom line. Beijing said that the consequences of not toeing its line would be catastrophic.
When Tsai showed no signs of giving in to Beijing’s verbal threats, it stepped up its efforts by attacking Taiwan where it would hurt the most: foreign relations.
Taiwan only has 22 diplomatic allies. It is plagued by a constant state of dread that at any moment they might switch sides to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China.
The Chinese government is aware of that fear. That is why its first move was to establish diplomatic ties with the Gambia on Mar. 17, two years and four months after the African nation unilaterally severed ties with Taiwan.
The renewed link between China and the Gambia was followed by rumors that the Vatican, Taiwan’s sole European ally, was about to enter talks with Beijing to establish diplomatic relations.
Beijing’s efforts escalated with the abduction of 45 Taiwanese who were either acquitted from telecom fraud charges or suspected of telecom fraud in Kenya.
That the Kenyan authorities were willing to ignore an injunction issued by their own courts barring the deportation of Taiwanese for the sake of appeasing China has given rise to a new worry: that if China wants it, more Taiwanese could fall victim to such uncivilized treatment in any part of the world.
Beijing’s motives are clear. It intends to deter Tsai from following in the footsteps of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), whom it deemed a troublemaker because of his “Taiwanization” agenda, while discouraging her from pushing Taiwan toward de jure independence.
However, if Chen’s terms in office are any indication, no amount of goodwill from a DPP president would earn Beijing’s trust, nor would it be met with any compromise from China on its ultimate goal of annexing Taiwan. Chen tried and failed to do so during his eight years in power.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) barely succeeded in this regard, as it seems that China does not care about the false appearance of cross-strait rapprochement that the outgoing KMT president has worked so hard to create and has taken great pride in, when it is busy issuing threats to force Tsai to fall in line.
The Kenya incident also proves that the 23 oft-touted cross-strait agreements signed by the Ma administration are mere stacks of waste paper that China can tear up at any time.
Taiwan might lose more diplomatic allies after Tsai is sworn in next month, considering that relations with most of those allies are only kept alive by periodic financial aid — something China can easily outmatch.
There is no point in fixating on the number of diplomatic allies. A more realistic approach would be to boost diplomatic efforts and forge substantial relations with nations that are conducive to Taiwan’s economic and strategic development.