The Dominican Republic is the latest scalp in Beijing’s bounced-check diplomacy trophy case. In announcing its decision to cut ties with Taiwan, Santo Domingo said the move “will be extraordinarily positive for the future of our country.”
While this is debatable, one could argue that Taiwan having diplomatic allies is a positive thing for China — it gives Beijing another tool for political oppression.
It is absurd that any nation should cut ties with an ally just because it wants to establish ties with a third.
This predicament is because of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legacy of insisting on vying with Beijing to claim representation of China, the insistence on following the “one China” principle.
In one way, China’s ally poaching is consistent with this principle; in another, it is not. Had Beijing just wanted to stop other nations from having diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (ROC), it would aggressively establish ties with those nations as quickly as possible.
Beijing briefly suspended the practice — the “diplomatic truce” — as a pat on the back for then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for his pro-China policies. It resumed the practice in December 2016, when it established diplomatic ties with Sao Tome and Principe shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) second tour of Latin America — the same month she placed a telephone call to then-US president-elect Donald Trump.
Although establishing ties with Panama in June last year made sense, considering the importance of the Panama Canal to China, Beijing waited until after Tsai announced a visit to diplomatic allies in the South Pacific to proceed.
Perhaps getting the Dominican Republic to shift ties was precipitated by the signing of the US’ Taiwan Travel Act in March, or it simply could be a sign of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) increasing frustration at Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the “1992 consensus.”
The decision to switch diplomatic recognition should be based on more than a simple financial consideration. As a diplomatic ally of Taiwan, a nation is a much-valued member of a small group of nations, and benefits from Taiwan not only with financial aid, but also in expertise, technology and developmental initiatives.
In a letter to the international media, written in English, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday laid out Taiwan’s contribution to the Dominican Republic. With Taiwan’s help, it had been able to increase rice production such that it has become an exporter of the crop; create the Santo Domingo Cyber Park to “build the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean;” and increase security and tourism, the letter said.
The letter compared this with “false promises of investment and aid by China,” citing several instances of China’s failure to follow through on investment pledges, including not fulfilling a pledge made when it poached Sao Tome and Principe to provide US$140 million in aid.
The letter also quoted former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson as saying that Beijing “encourages dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth.”
If Taiwan’s remaining allies switch to China, they will become minor allies, with limited geopolitical or strategic importance.
China will soon be running out of allies to poach when it wants to intimidate Taipei. The remaining 19 allies should think before they switch sides: They risk becoming a pawn in China’s game of bounced-check diplomacy.
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