Tue, May 29, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Do not sweat the diplomatic allies

By Ben Goren

The Republic of China (ROC) on Thursday severed ties with Burkina Faso. Since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration in May 2016, Taiwan has lost three other diplomatic allies: Sao Tome and Principe in December 2016, Panama in June last year and the Dominican Republic on April 30.

For the second year running, Taiwanese representatives were blocked from attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, following pressure from China, which also allegedly sent letters to all of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies warning them not to speak up on Taiwan’s behalf.

The events came in the context of China sending an ultimatum to airlines around the world demanding that they change the nomenclature on their booking Web sites to identify Taiwan as a part of China, many of which shamefully caved in to pressure, incurring mockery and wrath on social media in the process.

In Taiwan, media have dedicated huge amounts of their news cycles to poring over Burkina Faso’s cold-shouldering of Taiwan and Taiwan’s decision to “proactively” sever ties, which now appears to be little more than a thinly veiled face-saving exercise in bolting the stable door sans equine.

As usual, much of the commentary surrounding the ROC’s diplomatic woes internalizes an anguished hand-wrought assumption that Taiwan has been somehow economically and political damaged by the loss of an “ally,” despite many of these allies being net beneficiaries of official relations with Taiwan, rather than the other way around.

What exactly has Taiwan lost, materially, from severing ties with Burkina Faso? This is a nation whose liberation from colonial subjugation was tragically cut short by a Western-backed coup that toppled and murdered the popular and democratically elected socialist leader Thomas Sankara.

It was then ruled for 27 years by a French client dictatorship, which collapsed in 2014 when the public objected to it amending the Burkinabe constitution to extend its rule.

There have been two failed attempts at a coup d’etat in 2015 and 2016 against Burkinabe President Roch Kabore, the first non-interim majority-elected president in 49 years without any past ties to the military.

In 2014 it was described as one of the least-developed nations in the world, featuring just one railway line.

The people of Burkina Faso might have benefited a little from diplomatic relations with the ROC, in expanded trade or technology and skills transfer, but the benefits for Taiwan have been ephemeral.

Burkina Faso, along with the other three nations to cut ties with Taiwan, have provided little to no substantive “ally-ship” for Taiwan, outside of symbolic words of support, on the international stage since the ROC walked out of the UN in 1971.

At last count, the ROC on Taiwan has 18 diplomatic allies: one in Africa, one in Europe, six in Oceania, four in the Caribbean, five in Central America and one in South America.

However, Taiwan has non-diplomatic relations with the EU and 47 other states. The ROC lost the largest tranche of its allies between 1971 and 1973, conceding 37, then losing another 10 within five years. It then regained seven allies between 1978 and 1990, before the end of the Cold War and the normalization of the West’s relations with China saw Beijing turn its attention to eliminating the ROC’s international presence and visibility, a policy that went into a higher gear as soon as Taiwan elected a non-Chinese nationalist as president.

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