Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Keep former allied nations close

By Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos

The international influence that China has around the world is without a doubt powerful. Taiwan, which is seen by China as a rebel province that must be unified — either through an agreement or by force — is probably the country that feels the negative effects of Beijing’s influence the most. Since 2016, the nation has lost five diplomatic allies, and faces the prospect of losing more.

Whenever a country breaks its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, the nation usually swiftly reciprocates by shutting down its embassy in the country, halting all cooperation programs and removing government personnel from the former allied territory.

This has continued to be the trend since Beijing started to reduce the number of allies that still recognize the Republic of China (ROC) as an independent country after the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), whom it views as a threat.

When Taiwan broke ties with Sao Tome and Principe in December 2016, then-minister of foreign affairs David Lee (李大維) said that Taiwan was shutting down its embassy and stopping all cooperative programs with the African country, and that this was done to “safeguard the nation’s dignity.”

In that same month, a statement published on the Web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that “to uphold the dignity of the nation, the ROC will close its embassy in Sao Tome and Principe, recall its technical mission, and end all bilateral cooperation projects.”

In the same statement, it mentioned the great contributions Taiwan made to reduce the incidence of malaria in Sao Tome and Principe from 50 percent in 2003 to 1.01 percent in 2015, and attributed the rupture between the countries to financial demands that Taipei was unwilling to meet.

The nation made a similar statement when Panama switched its diplomatic ties to China the following year, announcing that it would immediately sever ties with the Central American country. It was also announced in a statement on the MOFA Web site that the decision “extends to the immediate termination of all cooperative projects and assistance. Embassy officials and staff of technical missions will also return to Taiwan.”

Similar statements were made when the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, and El Salvador broke ties later on, although it is important to mention that for El Salvador, it was Taiwan that announced it was severing ties before the Central American country did.

The closing of its embassies and halting of cooperation projects all seem like an appropriate response to what the government considers “a betrayal,” but it is the events that have unfolded after the rupture with El Salvador and the possibility that its newly elected government might switch its diplomatic ties back to the nation that raise an important question: Should Taipei look beyond pride and consider leaving a small mission, or even negotiate the possibility of a commercial office in the countries that switch ties to China?

The first reaction would probably be: No, why should Taiwan give any more money to a country that switched to China?

To that question, my answer would be that it should not continue to provide the same levels of financial support — and even if Taiwan were willing to do so, Beijing would most likely never allow it — but it should consider leaving some staff on the ground to represent the nation in case there is a change of government.

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