The government yesterday expressed its regret over Sao Tome and Principe’s decision to cut its 19-year-old diplomatic ties with Taiwan, acknowledging that “gambling behavior” by the African nation was prompted by Taipei’s denial of its request for an exorbitant amount of financial aid.
Speaking at an impromptu news conference in Taipei, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維) said that to safeguard the nation’s dignity, Taiwan would immediately cut its diplomatic ties with Sao Tome and Principe, shutter its embassy and halt any cooperative programs with the African nation.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in May 1997, Taipei has assisted Sao Tome and Principe in promoting national development, with our bilateral cooperation touching upon the areas of public health, medicine, agriculture, basic infrastructure, energy and education,” Lee said.
Singling out Taiwan’s antimalarial scheme in the African nation, Lee said thanks to continuous efforts by Taiwan’s malaria prevention counseling delegation, malaria incidence in Sao Tome and Principe fell from 50 percent in 2003 to 1.01 percent last year.
Despite Taipei’s determination to do its utmost to help its diplomatic allies promote national development, Lee said Sao Tome and Principe’s financial hole is simply too deep for Taiwan to deal with.
“Accordingly, it disregarded its nearly 20-year friendship with us and approached both sides of the Taiwan Strait to seek the highest bidder. We regret and deplore Sao Tome and Principe’s reckless and unfriendly decision,” Lee said.
He added that the incident would not cease Taipei’s resolve to expand the nation’s international space and push its “steadfast diplomacy.”
Asked to confirm media reports that Sao Tome and Principe had asked the government for NT$6.4 billion (US$199.9 million), Lee declined to reveal the actual amount.
“It did ask for an astronomical number, but we refused to play the checkbook-diplomacy game,” Lee said.
“We would rather initiate programs that actually improve the welfare of the people of Sao Tome and Principe. The African nation’s need for money to fill its financial hole is neither Taiwan’s responsibility, nor is it something we are willing to do,” Lee added.
Asked whether Beijing had attempted to lure Sao Tome and Principe with money, Lee said the government did not have that information, but it was regrettable that Beijing would take advantage of the African nation’s financial position to consolidate its “one China” principle.
Lee also denied the severance of ties was due to the President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) refusal to adhere to the so-called “1992 consensus,” which refers to a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
“Frankly speaking, if we look at the case of the Gambia, which broke its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in November 2013 and established a formal relationship with Beijing in March this year, that all occurred when the precondition of the ‘1992 consensus’ was met,” Lee said, referring to then-president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) adherence to the “1992 consensus.”
On the possibility that a domino effect could be set off with the nation’s other diplomatic allies, particularly the Vatican, Lee said given the nation’s diplomatic situation, that pressure would be omnipresent.