In a move to consolidate Taiwan’s relationship with its “diplomatic partner,” Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen is in Swaziland from April 17 to 21, as part of a “state visit.” But her efforts, as time will prove, are doomed to fail without a stable cross-Strait relationship with the Chinese Mainland.
After the Chinese Mainland was restored its seat in the United Nations in 1971, the government of the People’s Republic of China was widely recognized by the international community as the sole legal government of China. This recognition means that Taiwan is seen as a part of China, and no country should maintain formal relations with both Beijing and Taipei.
This has led to many of Taiwan’s “diplomatic partners,” including most recently Sao Tome and Principe and Panama, to switch their recognition of Chinese leadership from Taipei to Beijing. Except for countries like Swaziland, which is among Taiwan’s oldest and most reliable “partners,” most of Taiwan’s “allies,” including Vatican City, El Salvador and Nicaragua, are preparing to switch their official recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The question is, which country will be next?
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama's vice president and foreign minister, attend a press conference after signing a joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between two countries, Beijing, June 13, 2017. /Xinhua Photo
To further strengthen Taiwan’s relationship with its “diplomatic partners,” Tsai Ing-wen has traveled to several countries, ranging from Latin America to the Pacific islands and Africa. The Swaziland trip is the fourth time Tsai has visited in two years. In addition to encouraging these “partners” to speak up for Taiwan at the UN and other international organizations, Tsai tries to create the image that “Taiwan is an independent state”. She has to maintain as many “partners” as possible, as a symbol of autonomy in the international world. If the number of Taiwan’s “diplomatic partners” is reduced to zero, then the idea that “Taiwan is an independent state” would become nothing but an illusion.
At its highest point, Taiwan had 70 “diplomatic partners” in 1969. The number has dwindled since then and is now down to only 20. This trend vividly reflects the acceptance of the One-China Principle by the international community. Following this trend, even Panama, once a longstanding “friend” of
Taiwan, cut ties with the island last June.
Past experience also proves that an excellent cross-Strait relation is a preliminary basis for Taiwan to maintain ties with its “partners” and its participation in international organizations. During the Chen Shui-bian administration, Taiwan irritated the Chinese Mainland with its “One Country on Each Side” idea. Although Chen adopted a “dollar diplomacy” strategy to buy Taiwan’s “allies,” the number of the region’s “partners” dropped dramatically from 32 to 23. Taiwan was also forbidden from participating in the World Health Assembly (WHA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
In contrast, during the Ma Ying-jeou administration, Taiwan recognized the “1992 consensus,” which states that “both sides belong to one China.” This became the basis for successfully fostering relations with almost all of its “diplomatic partners,” except the Gambia. Taiwan was also accepted by important world organizations such as WHA and ICAO.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Ma Ying-jeou during their meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, Nov. 7, 2015. /Xinhua Photo
Tsai Ing-wen should draw lessons from these different experiences and should realize that it is impossible for her to enjoy a good relationship with Taiwan’s “diplomatic partners” without fundamentally changing her cross-Strait policy. Taiwan has two “diplomatic partners” in Africa: Swaziland and Burkina Faso. However, Burkina Faso is reluctant to invite Tsai, making Swaziland the only stop on her current Africa trip. Many analysts are speculating that the short trip could mean that Taiwan is facing challenges in its relationship with Burkina Faso. If Burkina Faso turns its back on Taiwan, Swaziland will become the last remaining “partner” in Africa, just as Vatican City is its last “partner” in Europe.
If Tsai Ing-wen wants to avoid these frustrating scenarios, she should recognize the“1992 consensus” and its core One-China Principle. Only in this way can Tsai Ing-wen resume a good relationship with the Chinese Mainland, and on this basis, maintain a good relationship with Taiwan’s “partners.” Otherwise, Taiwan will be isolated and marginalized on the international stage.