Mon, Sep 30, 2019 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik, Jr. On Taiwan: The Unhappy Isles of Oceania

Although the international news media seem to think otherwise, it would be a mistake to see Taiwan’s loss this month of two Pacific Island diplomatic partners, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, as driven by Beijing’s relentless campaign to isolate Taiwan.

This isn’t really about Taiwan. In its press releases, Beijing pretends that its “One China Principle” is the primary issue, but the ulterior objective is strategic control of the Pacific. Washington, of late, is very fond of Taiwan, but to the White House, Pentagon and State Department, who does — or doesn’t — recognize Taipei as the government of “all China” is of little concern. Their primary hope is that Taipei’s diplomatic presence in these islands can remain an effective and inexpensive instrument to blunt China’s Pacific expansion.

Chinese foreign ministry spokespersons, of course, boasted all week that “the one-China principle meets the shared aspiration of the people and is an irresistible trend of the times.” But this is mere bombast to mask Beijing’s more profound objective: the “integration” of these island nations into “The Great Family of China-Pacific Island Cooperation” (融入中國同太平洋島國合作的大家庭), a family with China in charge. It is a phrase redolent of Imperial Japan’s wartime boast of a “Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere” (大東亞共榮圈).

It is this specter of a “Great Sino-Pacific Family” that has finally caught Washington’s attention. In Washington’s alarm, Tokyo, Canberra and Wellington too have awakened from their inattention to see their homes and neighbors in the Pacific Ocean overrun by Chinese migration, shipping, scientific surveillance and of course, the People’s Liberation Army Navy. They also have a newfound respect for Taipei’s diplomatic efforts in the region.

I suspect the Chinese foreign ministry’s “Great Sino-Pacific Cooperative Family” is China’s answer to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s national day messages to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati back in July which “welcomed” those islands’ “commitments to advancing our shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region with other democracies in the Pacific region including Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Japan.” Secretary Pompeo’s sentiments were soothing at the time, but did little to persuade decision-makers in the islands. They were too little and too late.

When Solomon Islanders voted last April, the top two competing politicians were already halfway into Beijing’s pocket. The sitting prime minister campaigned on a platform to re-examine ties with Taipei and promised handsome sums of Chinese money to provincial constituents.

Yet, he lost to Manasseh Sogavare, a predecessor premier who resigned in 2017 amid allegations he had accepted political kickbacks from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to take over an undersea fiberoptic cable from the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara to Sydney. Poor Taiwan was at a disadvantage either way — even considering significant voters’ angst about Chinese migrants overwhelming their country’s economy and commerce.

Washington labored mightily to salvage the situation. In July US diplomats arranged to have Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Sogavare to meet American Vice President Michael Pence at last week’s United Nations General Assembly to talk about Taiwan. Pence hoped to gain time by postponing the Solomonic judgment. But Sogavare did not take Washington’s grave interest in Taiwan to heart. Pressed by Beijing, Sogavare precipitously split with Taipei beforehand. Pence cancelled the meeting and Sogavare opted not to go to New York after all.

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