In the run-up to president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration on May 20, China has begun to use its political and economic muscle to marginalize Taiwan in global diplomacy.
Recent weeks have seen intensifying efforts from China to poach Taiwan’s remaining allies. Beijing’s economic clout and international prestige make it an irresistible attraction to Taiwan’s few allies. China offers huge amounts of financial assistance that Taiwan can never match.
Last month, the Gambia established diplomatic ties with China after previously recognizing Taiwan. As a result, Taiwan has only 22 diplomatic allies remaining: the Vatican City in Europe; Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, and Swaziland in Africa; Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu in Oceania; and Belize, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in Central and South America and the Caribbean Community.
Also, China limits Taiwan’s participation in various global organizations, such as the World Organization for Animal Health, the Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers, and the Kimberly Process. After Taiwan was expelled from the WHO according to World Health Assembly Resolution 25.1 in 1972, Taiwan requested admission into the World Health Assembly as an observer in 1997, but China mobilized its allies in the developing world to deny the request at the General Committee of the World Health Assembly. Taipei has made the same request every year and Beijing has it rejected each time.
China has launched a global campaign to isolate the nation by demanding that Taiwan change its official title to Chinese Taipei or withdraw from international organizations. In 2007, China pushed for a resolution in the World Organization for Animal Health to support its idea that “there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing all China.”
The resolution was designed to change Taiwan’s status from a full member to a non-sovereign regional member, and to alter its title from the Republic of China on Taiwan to Taiwan, China. The US and its allies compromised and acknowledged this “one China” principle.
As China becomes more active in international organizations, it has forged alliances with many countries to isolate Taiwan.
All these examples exhibit an aggressive effort by Beijing to force the world’s acceptance of China’s superiority as the new norm of international diplomacy, global healthcare management and transnational cultural affairs.
Taiwan should take a critical look at cross-strait ties and China’s hardball diplomacy. Eight years ago, after his electoral victory in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) called for a diplomatic truce and strove to reduce cross-strait tensions. China accepted Ma’s request, but the decision led to bureaucratic rivalries between its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taiwan Affairs Office.
The ministry viewed any diplomatic gain against Taiwan as a departmental success. For each nation that switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, the ministry would get funds to build a new embassy abroad. However, the Taiwan Affairs Office argued that China’s diplomatic gains outraged the Taiwanese public, who consider China an aggressive bully rather than a peaceful neighbor.
Since it was important for Taiwan to keep its remaining allies, China accepted Ma’s request for a diplomatic truce to improve Beijing’s public image among Taiwanese and to support Ma’s policy of “three links” — direct postal, transportation and trade links with China.
Despite the odds, all is not yet lost for Taiwan. The US’ pivot to East Asia is designed to deter China and reassure regional allies. The severity of China’s economic crises has challenged Taiwan to reassess its financial rapprochement with Beijing. Many people hope that Tsai will articulate a new vision of Taiwan’s international status and pursue an agenda of diplomatic activism. Only by doing so will the nation win much diplomatic recognition from developed and developing countries, and participate in wider sociocultural, economic, scientific and religious platforms.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York.
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