A diplomatic cable recently released by WikiLeaks suggests the modus vivendi approach adopted by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) diplomatic policies has not kept the Taiwan issue out of China’s controversial aid policy.
For the past few decades, China has emerged as a major source of foreign aid aimed at securing access to resources necessary for its continued economic development and wooing nations as part of its competition with Taiwan for diplomatic allies.
Beijing’s “no strings attached” aid programs have often drawn concern from Western countries.
Released by WikiLeaks on Thursday, a cable dated May 19, 2009, from the US embassy in Beijing recorded observations by New Zealand embassy political official Tara Morton about China’s “massive” aid to Fiji, stating that “the People’s Republic of China [PRC] had been candid with New Zealander interlocutors in linking Fijian support on the Taiwan issue to China’s development assistance there.”
However, in talking to US officials, Zhou Jian (周建), then-deputy director of the North American and Oceanian Affairs Division of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied the link.
According to the cable, Zhou said that with the recent thaw in cross-strait relations, China’s policy in the South Pacific was looking past its traditional focus on checkbook diplomacy to buy UN votes to shore up its claim to Taiwan, and the Taiwan issue had become “less of a priority” in Chinese foreign policy with the South Pacific.
The cable showed disagreement between China and countries such as New Zealand and Australia over Western-led international efforts to persuade the leadership in Fiji, which came to power after a coup in 2006, to carry out democratic reform.
A Fijian embassy official told the US that a new package of Chinese economic assistance to Fiji, that was announced earlier in 2009, arrived just as Western sanctions were proving problematic and therefore had a political effect, the cable said.
Another cable dated Feb. 13, 2009, from the US embassy in Beijing showed that Australia and New Zealand expressed concern to China on the eve of a trip to Fiji by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), saying the trip would send the wrong message in light of international efforts to urge the government in Suva to reform.
Beijing downplayed the Xi visit, calling it a transit stop on the way to Latin America, according to the February cable.
However, a cable in June 2009 quoted Zhou as saying that China had signed at least four economic agreements with Fiji during Xi’s visit and one of the agreements was for a 10 million yuan (US$1.54 million) grant, but the details of its use were still under discussion.
Aid programs offered to Fiji and the Solomon Islands by Taiwan were also a concern for the US. A cable dated Jan. 24, 2007, from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) showed that then-AIT director Stephen Young met with then-minister of foreign affairs James Huang (黃志芳) to discuss Fiji and the Solomon Islands.
Young told Huang that it was particularly important that Taiwan follow its democratic values in its relations with Fiji and the Solomon Islands, and repeatedly said that Taiwan should hold discussions with Australia on the Solomon Islands, the cable said.
A year before the Fiji coup, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) made an unscheduled visit to Fiji — which recognized China — during a tour of allies in the Pacific.