China’s vast wealth luring nations

By Joseph Bosco  / 

Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 8

The People’s Republic of China has successfully defied the international order and is relentlessly remaking it in its own mold. Nothing demonstrates that dangerous reality more vividly, or sadly, than continued global regressions in the cause of human rights and democracy.

It once was hoped that engaging the Chinese communist regime and welcoming it to the family of nations would eventually modify its domestic and international behavior and encourage compliance with international norms, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Instead, using the vast wealth it has accumulated, thanks to Western generosity and naivete, Beijing is replacing that noble statement of moral principles with its own operating rule: a Universal Declaration that Money Talks.

Two current events demonstrate the shameful mark the Chinese government is making on the world’s moral standards. Digging into its very deep pockets, Beijing has enticed the government of El Salvador to abandon its decades-long official relationship with Taiwan.

The shift in diplomatic recognition to China is the latest in an established pattern of buying up diplomatic partners among small, poor countries in Latin America and the Pacific Islands who find it impossible to resist the allure of Beijing’s abundant cash resources — in what University of Miami political science professor June Teufel Dreyer has called China’s “anaconda strategy.”

Earlier this year, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso also succumbed to Beijing’s financial pressures and broke ties with Taiwan. (Granted, Taiwan at times participated in this bidding war, but its efforts were defensive.)

Meanwhile, in what was East Turkestan before China’s 1950 invasion but is now Xinjiang region, Chinese officials are conducting a campaign of political and religious repression that constitutes cultural genocide at a minimum.

With more than 1 million Uighurs confined to “re-education camps” under deplorable conditions and reports of mass disappearances, the situation may devolve into an ethnic cleansing. If China is seeking to wipe out all or much of a religious or ethnic population, it would be guilty of meeting the UN definition of genocide.

The brutal facts of what is happening to the Uighurs have been exposed to the family of nations. However, the nations, including Muslim governments and populations quick to protest every perceived Western slight, have chosen not to get involved for fear of damaging their economic relations with China.

Instead, as Beijing commits crimes against humanity, akin in some ways to Nazi Germany’s atrocities, the world conducts business as usual with the perpetrators, just as it did in the 1930s.

Not even one of the world’s great moral heroes was immune to the pressures of China’s financial inducements.

As he prepared to run for president of South Africa in 1993, Nelson Mandela visited Taiwan. (He had been to China the year before.) For his lifelong contributions to freedom, democracy and justice, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) awarded him Taiwan’s highest honor for a foreign national.

Mandela, in turn, expressed admiration for Taiwan’s efforts to develop a free and prosperous democracy and praised its efforts to promote human rights and social justice.

The Republic of China (ROC), under the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, had long-standing diplomatic relations with former South African president F.W. de Klerk’s government, while Beijing had supported the black liberation movement.

However, the ROC strongly supported Mandela’s presidential campaign, as Beijing threw its lot in with a rival to Mandela’s African National Congress.

Once he was elected in 1995, Mandela vowed that South Africa, the last major country still to recognize Taiwan, would continue to do so. He prided himself on being seen as a model to the world’s underdogs and he had developed an empathy for Taiwan. For two years he resisted Chinese pressures to cut ties with Taiwan.

However, the nation’s economic woes, after decades of apartheid rule, simply left no viable alternative to Beijing’s largesse and Mandela had to make a moral choice in the interests of the South Africans.

In 1997, in what he described as an “agonizing” decision, he did what outsiders long had seen as inevitable and severed official relations with Taiwan, though he made the change effective a year later to allow Taiwan time to adjust — a courtesy then-US president Jimmy Carter did not accord Taiwan in 1979.

Years later, Mandela expressed his pain at having been compelled to abandon Taiwan. After his death in 2013, Taiwan’s government mourned his loss and lauded his record as a driving force for freedom, justice, human rights and reconciliation.

Forcing one of the world’s moral icons to knuckle under for the sake of money no doubt was a signal achievement for China’s communist leaders. The Chinese people may not feel the same sense of pride.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director in the office of the US secretary of defense and taught a graduate seminar on US-China-Taiwan relations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is a fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies. This article originally appeared in The Hill on Aug. 28.