Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Taiwan must leverage China concern

Leaders from more than 50 African nations gathered in Beijing on Monday to attend the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, where Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) delivered a speech pledging US$60 billion of financial support for the continent, matching his pledge from three years ago.

Despite the eye-watering levels of investment, there is mounting evidence that China’s heavy presence in Africa is nothing short of a neocolonial resource grab that uses “debt-trap” diplomacy to saddle African nations with unsustainable levels of debt.

Beijing’s increasing assertiveness around the world is sounding alarm bells in Washington, but it also affords Taiwan an opportunity to boost its diplomatic credentials as a key ally to counter China’s threat.

In the Asia-Pacific region, China’s militarization of waters in the South and East China Seas through aggressive island-building is well-documented. On Monday, Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said that China has been “unilaterally escalating” military activities over the past year, including conducting airborne operations around Japanese airspace and sending a nuclear submarine near disputed islands.

“This has become a significant concern for our country’s defense,” Onodera said.

The umbrella of Beijing’s nefarious influence spreads much wider than just the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese Communist Party is steadily painting the globe red as it leverages its economic might to force indebted nations in Africa and elsewhere to cede strategic ports and hand over valuable mineral wealth and resources to pay off Chinese loans.

Sri Lanka is perhaps the most egregious example of the grave security threat posed by China’s “debt-trap” diplomacy, delivered through its Belt and Road Initiative. In December last year, the Sri Lankan government was forced to hand over the strategic port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease in a desperate attempt to pay off US$8 billion of debt the nation had racked up to Chinese state-controlled firms.

Perhaps the irony was lost on China’s leaders, given that Hong Kong’s New Territories were leased to Britain from China during the Qing Dynasty in 1898 for, you guessed it, 99 years — an aspect of the UK’s colonial past about which China never fails to remind Britain.

China last year opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, whose government is reportedly close to striking a deal with a Chinese state-controlled company that would cede control of its main port, which is the main access point for US, French, Italian and Japanese military bases in the area.

Earlier this year, French magazine Le Monde reported that China had infiltrated the African Union’s computer network and had been siphoning confidential data to a server in Shanghai every evening for five years from 2012 to last year. The union’s building was funded almost entirely by China as a “gift” to Africa and constructed by Chinese firms, with everything down to the furniture and interior fittings supplied by China. It was the mother of all Trojan horses.

However, perhaps of even more concern for Washington is that China has even begun to reach into South America, which the US regards as its backyard. The latest example of this occurred last month, when Beijing poached Taiwan’s former diplomatic ally El Salvador, eliciting an uncharacteristically robust response from the US Department of State.

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