A dose of desperation in Taiwan’s diplomacy?

Updated On: Aug 11, 2006

Taiwan’s diplomacy suffered a number of setbacks this week. Its loss of ally Chad to China over the weekend was a direct blow to Taiwan’s diplomacy.

At a rate of losing one state diplomatic recognition a year, in 2005, it lost Grenada in the Caribbean in January and another African state Senegal in October, while regaining tiny Nauru in the Pacific in May. Only 24 states (mostly small ones) now recognize Taiwan.

China’s energy policy is also integrated with its diplomacy to out-maneuver Taiwan. For example, oil-producing Chad is beset with an insurgency in the east of the country that borders Sudan, which supposedly funds and shelters the Chadian rebels. Chad’s leadership believes that China, with its close ties with Sudan, is in a better position to solve their insurgency problem.  

Although these states are small, they serve a useful function. Taiwan's diplomatic allies have served mainly as convenient excuses for President Chen Shui-bian's transit diplomacy, allowing him to visit US and Europe in his stopover visits on the way to these countries that recognize Taiwan.

In retaliation for the loss of Chad, President Chen’s party DPP is seeking to ban the China’s top bureaucrat on Taiwan affairs, Mr Chen Yunlin, from visiting Taipeifor an October 2006 forum on cross-strait agricultural cooperation. The visit would have been a victory for both Beijing and Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which invited Mr Chen, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the most senior Chinese official to visit the island since 1949. They also demand an apology from China for yet another loss of a diplomatic ally before Taiwan would even consider issuing a visa for Mr Chen.

China seems unruffled by this setback. Some suggest that they had very little hope of Chen’s visit taking place anyway given the DPP’s strong resistance against official contacts with China. This has its precedents. A previous KMT invitation for TAO's Mr Chen to attend a cross-strait economic forum in Taipei had been blocked by the Taiwanese government.

On a separate development, Taiwan’s desperation in gaining diplomatic recognition may have also pushed its diplomats over the edge. In a surprise revelation at the height of the Israel-Hizbollah crisis, it was reported that Taiwan's foreign minister James Huang visited the leader of the Hizbollah guerrilla group in a controversial clandestine trip earlier this year, triggering concern from the United States and Israel. Through the arrangement of friends, Minister Huang visited Hezbollah's secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in April to promote ties while other members of Lebanon's cabinet who met up with the Taiwanese delegation are from Hezbollah. All these were done to lay the foundation of a trip by Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian to make a surprise visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut on his way to Latin America in May 2006. But the visit was barred by China anyway.


'Little chance' Taiwan will let top China cross-strait official visit (Straits Times, 10 August 2006)

Taiwan confirms FM visited Hezbollah chief, sparking US and Israeli concern (Channelnewsasia, 9 August 2006)

Taiwan losing out in diplomacy game (Straits Times, 9 August 2006)