President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration was caught by surprise yesterday when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh abruptly announced that the nation was severing ties with the Republic of China (ROC). However, the government was quick to state that China was not behind the move, as it faced a barrage of questions about its much-touted “flexible diplomacy.”
A statement from Jammeh’s office on Thursday said his government was cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan with immediate effect, according to a Reuters report published at 5:42am Taipei time yesterday (9:42pm on Thursday in the Gambia).
The Gambia is the first country to break off relations with Taiwan since Ma assumed the presidency in May 2008, elected on his campaign of “flexible diplomacy,” which he described as a policy to ensure that Taiwan does not lose any more diplomatic allies because its signifies a “truce” with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the international arena.
“This was an isolated case. As things stand now, there seems to be no relation between the incident and mainland China,” Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said at a question-and-answer session at the legislature.
The government will strive to restore diplomatic ties with the Gambia, although “the chance is very slim” because Jammeh had announced the decision at a Cabinet meeting, Jiang said.
Bombarded with questions from lawmakers about the administration’s “flexible diplomacy,” Jiang said: “The problem is not with the policy of ‘flexible diplomacy’ itself... but we do need to find out what went wrong.”
Jiang said he had demanded that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conduct a thorough review on why it did not know of the Gambia’s plan and give the public a clear account of what led to the incident.
The ministry should be held responsible, he added.
According to the Reuters report, Jammeh said in the statement that the “decision has been taken in our strategic national interest.”
“We are proud that we have been a very strong and reliable partner of the ROC (China) for the past 18 years, the results of which are there for every Taiwanese to see,” the statement said.
Despite the announcement, Jammeh said in the statement that the Gambia hoped to “remain friends” with the Taiwanese people.
That left the ministry struggling to explain why Jammeh decided to sever what he repeatedly called “solid, strong and cordial relations” over the past 18 years since the two countries resumed ties in 1995.
At a press conference at the ministry, Department of West Asian and African Affairs Director-General David Wang (王建業) said the status of relations between Taiwan and the Gambia at present was “suspended.”
The term was different to what Jammeh said in the note, with a letter to Ma attached, given to the ROC embassy in the Gambia, that his country “terminated” diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Wang said.
Right after Ambassador to the Gambia Samuel Chen (陳士良) received the note at 4pm on Thursday, state Radio Gambia made the announcement, and then Reuters picked up the news, Wang said.
Chen was not able to meet with Jammeh at the time to verify the note because Jammeh was at a meeting, but Chen had talked to a very high-ranking Gambian official before he sent the information back to Taipei, Wang said.
In Taipei, Gambian Ambassador to Taiwan Alhagie Ebrima Jarjou arrived at the ministry at 9:30am after being summoned by Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂).