Alongside the lingering diplomatic crisis between Taiwan and Japan sparked by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) novel interpretation of the 1952 Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty — also known as the Treaty of Taipei — there are now reports that the Honduran ambassador to Taiwan complained to a legislator that the nation has not made good on existing pledges regarding bilateral cooperation.
This is at the same time that Ma is making two trips to Central America in the space of a month. Early last month he visited El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala, now he is in Panama, which is listed among the countries having diplomatic relations with Beijing on the Web site of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This string of events suggests that Taiwan’s diplomatic relations are on the verge of collapse. The crisis is a direct consequence of Ma’s own words and actions and his administration’s erroneous policy of giving relations with China greater priority than those with other countries.
Ma also stirred up controversy when he claimed that Japan confirmed in the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty that sovereignty over Taiwan had been returned to the Republic of China, an interpretation that is at variance with the internationally accepted one. Only three days later, Japan’s chief representative in Taiwan, Masaki Saito, stated in writing that Taiwan’s sovereign status remains undetermined.
Saito’s remarks were apparently a response to those made by Ma.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry lodged an official protest over Saito’s comments and some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators called on the government to demand that Japan replace him. Newspapers reported that Ma had refused to meet with Saito, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two did meet briefly recently. Japan has reportedly responded by giving Taiwan’s representative in Tokyo the same treatment.
What a contrast with the situation under the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration, when Taiwan’s representative in Tokyo had many meetings with senior Japanese officials and even took hot spring baths with them. Now Taiwan-Japan ties have gone into a deep freeze as trust between the two sides crumbles.
The problems with Honduras and Panama arise from Ma’s attitude toward Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
First Ma portrayed Taiwan’s mutual cooperation with its diplomatic allies as the coercion and extortion of Taiwan. When visiting Central America last August and again this year, Ma did not discuss what his hosts were most concerned about — an agenda for bilateral cooperation. Instead, he preached to them about Taipei’s relations with Beijing and encouraged Taiwan’s allies to build trade and economic ties with China.
Ma has also announced that Taipei will henceforth engage in “proper diplomacy,” implying that Taipei’s diplomatic partners have hitherto behaved like beggars who only want to get money out of the nation.
What the nation’s allies get for maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei is not just a cold shoulder from Beijing, but now they are also ridiculed by Ma. Why should they maintain relations with Taiwan any longer?
Given this state of affairs, it is not so strange that Panama should appear on the list of diplomatic allies on the Chinese foreign ministry’s Web site. The same issue explains why Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega delayed a scheduled meeting with Ma three times.
Why is Ma making two trips to Central America within a month? Is it because he has realized that Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are so fed up with his arrogant and self-important attitude that they are thinking of breaking off relations.
The visits have nothing to do with long-term friendship, they are salvage missions to try and fix the damage Ma’s attitude has done to Taiwan’s relations with its diplomatic partners.
The Ma administration has followed a policy of “flexible” or “workable” diplomacy during its first year in office, but it has been so “flexible” that Taipei’s diplomatic allies now doubt whether Taiwan is sincere about maintaining official ties.
Moreover, all is not well with countries that have maintained close, though unofficial, ties with Taiwan. There is now a crisis of confidence between Taiwan and Japan, while US-Taiwan ties are not as close as they used to be.
Despite all the government’s efforts to be flexible, Beijing still blocks Taipei from forging official ties with other countries. Taiwan’s diplomatic policy is on the verge of collapse and it is the incompetence of Ma and his national security team that got us into this mess.
Lai I-chung is director of foreign policy studies at Taiwan Thinktank.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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