Sun, Dec 01, 2013 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Ma shares blame for split with the Gambia: academic

In a recent interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’), Academia Sinica research fellow Lin Cheng-yi told staff reporter Tzou Jiing-wen that President Ma Ying-jeou could not be absolved of blame for the severance of diplomatic ties with the Gambia and should make known to Beijing that Taiwan needs to maintain a basic number of diplomatic allies, or else development of cross-strait relations could be affected

Liberty Times: Could you give us an analysis on the relation between the severance of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the Gambia and the China factor?

Lin Cheng-yi (林正義): A diplomatic crisis [as in the case with the Gambia] does not simply happen, it always leaves certain signs.

Can we be sure that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh really made the decision [to sever ties] due to his dictatorial style [of leadership] and there were no clues to hint at such a possibility?

That the Gambia had asked earlier this year if Taiwan could loan it more money and was turned down may be a reason, but Jammeh’s understanding of China’s role in Africa could have also played a role.

It is clear that Jammeh, whose comments over the past year show hostility towards Western colonialism, as well as the Commonwealth of Nations, from which it declared its withdrawal, feels that the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], especially China, would give the nation an alternate choice over Western nations.

Jammeh’s aspirations for the Gambia to become a principal exporter of crude oil may also play a role in his seeking to make China a strategic ally due to funding and technology from Chinese companies.

China’s strategic [expansion] in Africa had been underway since the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), which was evident in its hosting the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

Of the 54 countries in the African Union, only four did not participate in the forum, and in comparison with the other countries they were possibly assessing what national benefits might be sacrificed for choosing to side with Taiwan.

This month, China set up trade offices in Sao Tome and Principe, a country that has 16 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

At the end of the month we saw the Gambia, which had diplomatic ties with Taiwan for 18 years, choose to sever relations.

Over the past few years, China’s state-owned corporations have made promises to fund the construction of public infrastructure in Sao Tome. At the same time, Beijing has also established offices in many of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.

Many of those allies have reciprocated and established offices in China, and in this way, we see that Taiwan’s allies in Africa are faced with a choice.

As Chinese influence is evidently at work, there is no need to emphasize that China has nothing to do with the Gambia’s severance of diplomatic ties.

The problem now is to ascertain if our diplomatic staff erred and were unable to notice the clues and signs due to insufficient national resources [in the international arena] and the many years of diplomatic truce between Taiwan and China.

If we cannot even detect the reason why we have lost an ally then that is truly wasting taxpayers’ money.

The president is in a position to influence diplomatic affairs and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) can’t shed his responsibility in this Gambia matter.

Both the Presidential Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) need to pool governmental and civil resources and discuss the Gambian issue.

They then need to turn their focus on other allies, especially those that have made explicit statements that they were considering establishing formal relations with China, such as the Republic of Panama, the Republic of Honduras, or others whose ministers of foreign affairs have already visited China.

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