Tue, Mar 19, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Regaining El Salvador as an ally

By Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos

At the beginning of last month, Federico Anliker, a member of Salvadorean president-elect Nayib Bukele’s team and the secretary-general of his political party, said that the new administration of the Central American nation would investigate the reasons behind the switch of ties to China in August last year, once it officially takes power on June 1.

Bukele is the former mayor of San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital, and won the presidential election with more than 50 percent of the vote.

His victory has put an end to a two-party dominance that had lasted for more than 25 years, and he has voiced his discomfort about Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s decision to switch ties to Beijing.

Bukele and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) met in Taipei on Feb. 23, 2017, during his first visit to Taiwan to attend the Smart City Summit and Expo.

She told him that she hoped that Taipei and San Salvador could step up exchanges and bilateral cooperation so both nation’s citizens could enjoy the benefits of mutual assistance.

Bukele and his team members’ comments are without a doubt a ray of hope to the Tsai presidency, which has lost five diplomatic allies since she took office in 2016, reducing the number of countries that maintain official ties with the nation to 17.

El Salvador severed ties with Taiwan in August last year, following reports that officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei had confirmed that there were financial disagreements that caused the relationship between the two governments to end.

One of the reasons for the rupture was the construction of the Port of La Union, which was a central project for the Salvadorean government at the time.

It appears that after it requested assistance of the Taiwanese government to build the port, it was analyzed and categorized as “financially unviable” by Taiwanese experts, which did not sit well with the local authorities.

The other reason appears to be what was described at the time by Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) as El Salvador requesting an “astronomical sum of money” that Taiwan was unable to provide (he did not disclose the requested amount).

It was presumed that the requested funds would be used to finance political campaigns in this year’s elections, which the ruling party stood slim chances of winning. Those factors made any attempt to persuade the Salvadorean government to maintain ties futile, and the series of events culminated with a rupture in bilateral relations that had lasted 85 years.

The switch of ties caused an unexpected reaction from the US government, which through the US Department of State expressed its disappointment at the decision.

The backlash was so strong that the State Department even made the unusual move to recall its envoys from El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic over those countries’ decisions to break relations with Taiwan — although they were eventually sent back.

The US Senate also took steps aimed at showing support for Taiwan and discouraging its remaining diplomatic allies to switch ties to Beijing. There were reports at the time that US President Donald Trump’s administration intended to severely penalize El Salvador for switching ties to China.

Although the punishments never materialized, due to concerns in the US administration that cutting its aid to the country and imposing visa restrictions on its citizens would have complicated its strategy to stop illegal migration to the US, the mere fact that Washington went so far as to consider sanctions on another country to defend Taiwan is unprecedented.

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