Academics yesterday said Sao Tome and Principe’s move to cut diplomatic ties were linked to US president-elect Donald Trump’s comments on Washington’s “one China” policy, while some said the African nation’s departure could trigger a domino effect among Taiwan’s 21 remaining diplomatic allies.
The severance of Taiwan-Sao Tome and Principe ties could be because of Beijing’s conviction that it must respond to Trump, who accepted a telephone call from President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) earlier this month and questioned the US’ “one China” policy, Prospect Foundation deputy director Lin Ting-hui (林廷輝) said.
Sao Tome’s announcement appears to be timed to coincide with Tsai’s state visit to Central America next month, suggesting that Beijing wanted to pre-empt any negative effects to its interests that might arise as a result of comments Tsai makes during a possible layovers in the US, Lin said.
Several of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies in Latin America, such as Nicaragua, have Chinese representative offices and showed disrespect to then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) when he visit the region, Lin said, adding that Tsai and her staff should be mindful that those states might attempt to cajole more funds from Taiwan by leveraging recent events.
Wang Kao-cheng (王高成), dean of Tamkang University’s College of International Studies, said he believes that Trump’s public statements questioning the “one China” policy and recent changes in the Taiwan-China-US trilateral relationship might have provoked Beijing into striking back via Sao Tome and Principe.
Beijing’s growing irritation with Tsai’s perceived pro-US posture could have also played a part, Wang said.
National Chengchi University (NCCU) professor of diplomacy Huang Kwei-bo (黃奎博) said the Sao Tome and Principe move showed that Taipei had lost control of its relations with diplomatic allies and that more of the same should not be ruled out.
While Beijing was previously willing to abide by the tacit “diplomatic truce” with Taiwan in the interests of stable cross-strait relations, the current cross-strait impasse since the Tsai administration took office has prompted Beijing to again assert itself against Taiwan diplomatically, Huang said.
Sao Tome and Principe’s decision was a delayed reaction to the Gambia’s derecognition of Taiwan in 2013, but the former is of greater concern, because it occurred following a transition of power in Taiwan and the degradation of cross-strait relations, which raises the possibility of a domino effect on Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, Huang said.
“The Tsai administration made a show of saying it wants to improve cross-strait relations, but it has been more destructive than constructive in that relationship,” Huang said. “Constructive actions would require both sides to work together.”
Yen Chen-shen (嚴震生), a research fellow at NCCU’s Institute of International Relations, said Beijing was surprised by the Gambia’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2013, because at the time it was committed to keeping the “diplomatic truce” with the then-Ma administration.
The diplomatic situation has changed since then, Yen said, adding that one of the differences is that Beijing has improved the sophistication of its message control, which has created the appearance that the African nation’s decision was its own, not a result of Chinese pressure.
According to Yen, Beijing said it had been contacted by Latin American nations to establish ties, but turned them down because it did not deem them worth disrupting cross-strait relations.
However, the Chinese leadership is now inclined to believe that Taiwan is indifferent toward maintaining cross-strait relations and it was therefore free to deprive it of diplomatic allies, Yen said.
The real trouble for Taiwanese diplomacy would arise if the Vatican, the nation’s only European diplomatic ally, decided to establish official relations with China, as it might shock allies throughout Central America, Yen said.
“Such a move would clearly be aimed at Taiwan,” he said.
Yen said it would be risky for Beijing to try to influence other allies, because that might anger Taiwanese.
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