At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing.
This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies.
This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America.
Last year, Tuvalu rejected an offer from a group of Chinese firms to build artificial islands that would help the nation deal with rising sea levels.
The Pacific nation refused because it viewed the offer as an attempt to diminish Taiwan’s influence in the region, something that Tuvalu’s government flatly rejected.
These developments are just some examples of how the CCP’s influence has diminished worldwide, motivated by an anti-China sentiment driven in no small part by the US trade dispute and by what many consider to be the Chinese government’s lack of candor in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed economies and caused more than 700,000 deaths worldwide.
It is notable that since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) defeated then-Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-Yu (韓國瑜), the KMT’s candidate in January’s presidential election, the Chinese government has not been able to retaliate by snatching another of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
This did not seem out of the question before the elections, given that the CCP had managed to lure two of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific within one week just a couple of months before.
That and the reports of Chinese officials promising the Haitian government interest-free loans in exchange for a diplomatic switch, made the loss of another ally a real possibility.
Haiti was not the only country being targeted. Shortly after Tsai’s re-election, the CCP continued its push to isolate Taiwan by sending a letter to Eswatini, which threatened to impose economic pressure on that nation unless it switched recognition to Beijing.
The letter also announced that any citizens of Eswatini wishing to travel to China would have to apply for visas at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
Once again, Beijing’s threats did not have the desired effect and the diplomatic relations with both nations remained stable.
Since Tsai took office in 2016, Taiwan has lost seven diplomatic allies: Burkina Faso and Sao Tome and Principe in Africa; Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic in Latin America, and the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in Oceania.
It is important to point out once again that the last two countries severed their diplomatic relations with Taiwan within a week, in what was seen by many as an attempt by China to manipulate the results of January’s elections by turning public opinion against the Tsai administration.
However, this did not really have an effect, and Taiwanese voters gave Tsai a second term by a margin of more than 18 percent of the vote.
Her astounding victory just months after the two defections raises another important question: Can the CCP’s strategy of isolating Taiwan produce its desired result?
Considering international developments, it could easily be argued that it would not.
After the approval of Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which has been used to crack down on any opposition to the Chinese government and has drawn international condemnation, there is little appetite from many developed nations to allow the Chinese government to bully other countries.
Some nations have gone so far as to impose sanctions and suspend extradition treaties with the territory, actions that demonstrate that the world will not just stand by while the Chinese government does as it pleases.
There have also been many other signs of support for the Taiwanese cause coming from its strongest ally, the US.
One example is the introduction of the “Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act,” which aims to authorize the use of military action against China if it were to try to invade Taiwan.
If passed, this would be the most significant development for Taiwan since the passing of the Taipei Act.
The latter authorizes the US Department of State to re-evaluate and even downgrade its relation with any country that ditches Taiwan to pursue diplomatic ties with China.
This law might have already played an important role in Taiwan’s remaining allies deciding to reject the CCP’s offerings, preventing them from making a diplomatic switch because they fear it would have an adverse effect on their relationship with the US.
Notably, the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act also advocates for a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan, something that Tsai had floated when she last year pushed for a resumption of trade talks under the Taiwan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
If a trade deal were to be signed, it could become one of Tsai’s biggest successes.
It is not only abroad that Beijing’s isolationist approach seems to be having an adverse effect.
Inside Taiwan, it is also producing a negative result among Taiwanese.
This could be seen during the previous election cycle, when even after Taiwan lost two diplomatic allies, there was hardly any criticism of the governing party.
The critique previously leveled against Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party — its “inability” to keep Taiwan’s diplomatic allies — did not resonate with an electorate that was more concerned about a future under a CCP friendly government.
Taiwanese have begun to understand that their government is not responsible for other countries accepting to switch sides due to economic incentives, an area in which Taiwan simply cannot compete, and that they should put the blame where it actually lies: the Chinese government.
This is not to say that losing a diplomatic ally should not be a matter of concern, as maintaining existing relationships with allies must be a priority for any administration.
If Taiwanese are no longer afraid of Chinese influence luring allies away, it could be a game changer for Taiwanese politics.
Based on these factors, if China were to continue to poach Taiwan’s allies, it would only alienate the international community and the Taiwanese electorate, drawing condemnation around the world and pushing the KMT’s candidates further away from power, something that would play against their own interests.
Under these conditions, the most reasonable thing for the CCP to do would be to take a step back and reassess its strategy.
Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos is a Honduran lawyer residing in Taiwan and has a master’s degree in business administration.
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