Saturday, March 19, 2016

China does the Gambia Gambit

The Abbot's house at the old Shinto Temple in Tunghsiao.

First, from the Nelson Report, the Washington Insider Report:


THE TAIWAN FACTOR...In recent years, there has been something of a "working understanding" that so long as Taipei didn't make too much trouble about joining international institutions requiring national state status, Beijing would not resume its campaign to take-away the couple of dozen foreign countries which still extend official, formal diplomatic recognition to the Republic of China.

So if for various reasons this implicit deal collapses, but especially to try and force incoming DPP president Tsai Ing-wen to officially embrace the "1992 Consensus", that would signal heightened tensions across the Strait this year, most folks agree.

Why would that be in anyone's interest, we innocently ask? Our question is prompted by Loyal Reader Robert Blohm, who caught this in today's NY Times, then adds perspective:

The Gambia first recognized Taiwan when it represented China at the UN, then switched to Mainland China when the UN switched. In 1995 a coup installed the current president who switched to Taiwan. When Taiwan refused to increase aid to The Gambia, it broke off relations with Taiwan in 2013 (and also left the British Commonwealth) but the Mainland didn't step into the breach out of deference to the friendly Taiwan KMT government of Ma.

Last December The Gambia declared itself the newest Islamic state. Following Feb. 1st installation in the legislature of Taiwan's newly elected DPP government, prior to Ms. Tsai's inauguration on May 20th, and immediately on closure of the Twin Meetings of the Mainland legislature, the Mainland has now elected to oblige The Gambia and re-establish diplomatic relations, reducing to 22 the number of countries recognizing Taiwan.

Is this is the Mainland's first action signaling disapproval of Taiwan's new government?

BOB MANNING, Atlantic Council:

If this proxy diplomatic battle is renewed, no way Taiwans can win that one. Taipei should focus on TPP, trade deals and UN special organizations like WHO, and try to cut deal w/ Beijing for that as their "international space".

Xi would be smart to agree, it would strengthen Tsai's hand politically in Taiwan, and make it easier for her to do what he wants...accept '92 consensus. But that all makes way too much sense...

Your Editor: good "trade" suggestions, so we've been asking around, and are assured that the re-installed DPP will indeed focus on what needs to be done to get Taiwan "into the game" re TPP.

Harken back to last July's Brookings' conference where AIT chairman Ray Burghardt spoke about a shift under the Obama Administration which has transformed the US-Taiwan relationship so it's no longer an appendage of the US-China relationship...

An involved observer comments:

"Ray's 'shift' might well be in play if the DPP can get their ducks in line re pork and beef, plus the protectionist/regulation/SOE etc issues that need to be addressed to get Taiwan at least up to the KORUS level. If so, and if China uses Malaysia, for example, to block Taiwan's accession to the TPP, might the US be willing to move on TIFA and, maybe even an FTA with Taiwan? That's a long jump, but..."

Bearing in mind that DAS/State Thornton has called Taiwan a "vital partner", observers predict a set of more proactive moves ahead as Tsai gets into office this May. For now, there's another Obama initiative which should provide Taiwan with reassurance, a recently signed "MOU" with the State Department on something called the "Global Cooperative Training Framework."

An informed source:

"This is anavenue to explore greater US-Taiwan activity that gives options for joint action on a variety of issues, e.g. women's empowerment, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance,etc. Former Rep. Marjorie Margolies (Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law and who was a victim of voting for the Clinton 1993 budget deal) was recently in Taiwan hoping to establish Taiwan as an Asia hub for her Women's Campaign Initiative. State was very supportive of her visit and hopes to see the DPP government provide some serious attention to this.

Also Kurt Tong, PDAS at State, two weeks ago sat publicly at a GW event with Bruce Linghu, Dep MOFA, at a program discussing this GCTF. It certainly appears that the Ma Administration has been "slow walking" implementation. You can bet a Tsai Administration will be fast walking these opportunities!

So you should expect to see more in this area - moving Taiwan into position with those organizations that don't require "statehood" but give Taiwan a place at the table where it can be a "responsible stakeholder." Beijing might not like this, but since "statehood" is not in play..."


At Thinking-Taiwan, a well thought out and measured article by Timothy Rich observes....
A knee-jerk reaction by Taiwan would be to try to find a replacement for the loss of The Gambia, similar to a Major League Baseball team trying to replace their former star player with a flashy free agent. However, such a strategy does little for Taiwan. The Gambia after all was not a major trading partner, served no security interests, and remains one of Africa’s more brutal authoritarian regimes. President Yaya Jammeh’s rule has included restrictions on expression, life sentences for those of the LGBT community, and President Jammeh’s own claim to have an herbal cure for AIDS.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of course does not wish to be viewed as weak on cross-strait relations, emphasizing their commitment to strengthening ties with their remaining twenty-two diplomatic allies. It is also easy to view The Gambia within the lens of Taiwan’s historic January elections and assume broader Chinese strategic intent to restart a diplomatic competition that favors Beijing, rather than cautiously view this as an isolated case in which Taiwan tangibly has lost little. Unofficial relations with stable and powerful democracies provide far more in regards to Taiwan’s national interests, while myopically focusing on the potential return of diplomatic battles serves only to constrain Taiwan’s options.
Reuters has been gleefully presenting this as a "shot across the bow" of Tsai Ing-wen, which is how everyone is seeing it. Interestingly, it happened on Ma's watch -- why didn't the PRC simply wait two months and have Gambia flip the day Tsai is sworn in?

In any case, Shannon Tiezzi observes at The Diplomat that in 2013 at least five of the ROC's allies approached the PRC about switching, but Beijing turned them down, just to be nice to Ma.

The existence of the ROC depends on four things: its existence on Taiwan, its control of islands off China's coast, its territorial claims, and its diplomatic allies. Beijing will likely pick off a few because it can, and to put pressure on Tsai. But if Beijing scoops them all up, then the ROC will effectively equal Taiwan, which Beijing does not want, since that encourages Taiwan independence. For that reason, some independence advocates argue that Beijing should be encouraged to do that. Moreover, Beijing needs the ROC alive and well, because it is counting on the ROC to annex Taiwan to China without a war. That is also why it has never taken back Kinmen and Matsu, though it easily could.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's truly important links are with Japan and the US, and neither of those are ROC-driven. So relax, and brace for comforting your Taiwan friends when more countries switch. There isn't a thing anyone here can do about it, and in the long run, it might even be a good thing.
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1 comment:

TaiwanJunkie said...

These small diplomatic allies serve no purpose but to perpetuate the myth of One China Different Interpretations. Every single one of these "allies" are recognizing One China, with the ROC being the One China. The faster ROC can become a fully unrecognized state the faster the Taiwanese Republic can be ushered in.