The Dominican Republic’s severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan late on Monday is similar to the double-handed ploy observed in Panama’s switching of diplomatic recognition to China in June last year, a high-level government official said.
Although the Dominican Republican informed Taiwan of its decision only an hour before making the switch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been closely following the interactions between the Caribbean nation and China, which since 2016 had held two talks on establishing ties in a third country, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“The first meeting occurred in late 2016 in a European nation, while the second one took place in a Latin American country in March last year,” the official said.
None of the two countries that hosted the meetings were Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, the official said.
The ministry started worrying about the possibility of losing the Dominican Republic as an ally when it learned of the first meeting, a sentiment that was compounded by then-minister of foreign affairs David Lee’s (李大維) failure to secure a meeting with his Dominican Republic counterpart and a high-level aide to Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina when he visited the Caribbean nation in July last year.
The situation appeared to have improved after Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Maria Liu’s (劉德立) visit to the Dominican Republic in October last year, during which Medina told Liu of his intention to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the official said.
Seizing the opportunity, Taiwan signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with the Dominican Republic and gave it 50 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, also known as Humvees, in February this year, the official said.
“However, in the end, the Dominican Republic chose a highly insensitive way to end our 77-year-old friendship, giving us merely an hour’s notice, just like Panama did,” the official said.
The Dominican Republic was lured by Beijing’s pledge of a US$3.094 billion investment plan that covers seven infrastructure projects: US$1.6 billion for railways, US$400 million for highways, US$350 million for a multifunctional hydropower plant, US$300 million for a natural gas-fired power plant, US$220 million for affordable housings, US$174 million for a waste incineration plant and US$50 million for a civil aviation center, the official said.
The Dominican Republic had been on the top of the government’s list of unstable diplomatic allies, the official said.
Lee had also revealed before that due to Beijing’s repeated attempts to poach Taiwan’s allies, one of the nation’s diplomats had lost 7kg in weight and had an emotional breakdown during a telephone call with him.
The diplomat was reportedly Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Tang Ji-zen (湯繼仁).
While yesterday’s setback left Taiwan with only 19 diplomatic allies, most academics believed the ministry had done its best to keep the nation’s friends.
However, they were divided on whether it was shaky cross-strait relations or warming US-Taiwan ties that prompted China to make its move now.
Huang Kwei-bo (黃奎博), an associate professor at National Chengchi University’s diplomacy department, said the key to alleviating the nation’s diplomatic predicament lies in patching things up with Beijing, adding that there is little room for improvement in President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) diplomatic policies.
“Although improving cross-strait ties will not necessarily guarantee a smooth path for the nation’s diplomatic efforts, at least Beijing will not always be provoking major incidents, such as the one with the Dominican Republic yesterday,” Huang said.
National Taiwan Normal University professor of politics Fan Shih-ping (范世平) said the incident was most likely triggered by the US’ passage last month of the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages high-level visits by US and Taiwanese government officials.
That the diplomatic incident happened only about a week before an annual defense industry conference between Taiwan and the US — which is to be held for the first time in Kaohsiung on Thursday next week — is proof of that, Fan said.
The ministry should be more proactive in finding new diplomatic allies, Fan said, adding that, to his knowledge, there are some small nations that are interested in establishing ties with Taiwan.
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