Sun, Jun 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Taiwan a rational, friendly partner

As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Wednesday met with Central American Integration System (SICA) secretary-general Vinicio Cerezo, she told him that Taiwanese are uniquely equipped to meet the customized needs of international trading partners.

The meeting came as the nation anxiously wonders whether it can keep its diplomatic allies, many of which have switched recognition to Beijing over the past two years.

Central America is particularly important, as it is the only region in which the majority of nations recognize Taiwan rather than China. How has Taiwan kept China largely at bay in the region and how can it continue to do so?

In an analysis piece for Taiwan Sentinel on Sept. 21 last year, Timothy Rich and Andi Dahmer cited shared anti-communist ideologies and close ties with the US that served as important commonalities between Taiwan and Central American nations during the Cold War period.

Over the past few decades, “shared experiences of political and economic liberalization” facilitated a continuation of the ties, the article said.

However, despite different leaders denying the importance of “dollar diplomacy” to continued relations, the large amount of financial investment and technical assistance provided by Taiwan to SICA countries has been of undeniable importance to ties, it said.

While Taiwan has “been a good friend” to Central American countries, no strong ideological or cultural link exists with the region, University of Puget Sound anthropology professor Monica Dehart said in an interview last month.

However, Central Americans have never been close to China either, said Fulton Armstrong, a senior faculty fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University in Washington.

China is merely filling a vacuum in the region left by the withdrawal of the US, Armstrong said.

Like others, Armstrong said the adoption of ties with China by South American (and now some Central American) countries has been purely pragmatic in nature.

Regional leaders are going where the money is and Tsai’s statement to Cerezo that Taiwan is more like a professional tailor than a mass production clothing factory is evidence that the government is exploring ways to avoid losing a bidding war with China.

The government has no choice but to sell Taiwan as the better option and must do so in a way that does not come down to dollar signs. One way is to emphasize that Taiwan’s assistance to its diplomatic allies comes without strings attached and will not turn short-term gain into long-term pain.

Sean Miner, an associate director and China fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the infrastructure projects that China is building in South America are largely designed to facilitate its extraction of those nations’ natural resources.

This leaves countries without the ability to develop manufacturing or services industries and loads them with debt from infrastructure projects that they will be unable to repay, thereby giving China tremendous power over them, Miner said.

In comparison, Taiwan’s projects in Central America revolve around training local healthcare personnel, helping with the development of agriculture and aquaculture programs, assisting with technological and vocational training, providing Mandarin education and working directly with young people through various programs.

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