Taiwanese diplomats in Gambia to rescue ties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:48am

Taiwan has sent senior diplomats to the Gambia in a last-ditch effort to restore diplomatic relations after they were unilaterally broken off by the West African nation, officials said yesterday.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Anna Kao said officials including Richard Shih, the island's ambassador to the Gambia from 2008 to 2011, had arrived in Banjul.

She declined to provide further details, but media reports said that since the Taiwanese officials had not been denied entry and were in contact with their Gambian foreign ministry counterparts, Taiwan's foreign ministry believes that the Gambian government "has not shut the door to negotiations".

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced on Thursday that "in strategic national interest" his government had broken off diplomatic ties with Taiwan after 18 years, catching Taipei unprepared.

While Taipei expressed "shock and regret", the surprise decision has prompted speculation about Jammeh's motive.

Beijing, which has growing investments and influence in Africa, has denied it put pressure on the Gambia, although it did say that support for "the peaceful reunification of China is an irreversible trend".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing learned of the Gambia's move from foreign media. "Before that, we hadn't had contact with the Gambian side," he said.

Some scholars and politicians said Jammeh might use the drastic step, which reduces the number of countries recognising Taiwan to 22, to demand more aid from Taiwan as a condition for a change of heart.

"Should it demand a lot, the rest of the allies might follow in its footsteps, then how could the government deal with them?" said legislator Lin Yu-fang of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party.

Taipei and Beijing for years engaged in a bitter diplomatic tug-of-war, luring away each other's allies with generous financial packages, until Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang became president in 2008.

Taiwan's opposition said the diplomatic setback marked the failure of Ma's truce with Beijing.