Taiwan President Ma launches charm offensive to protect remaining diplomatic ties

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 9:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 9:22am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is hoping to protect some of the few diplomatic relationships Taipei has left with a whirlwind trip to Africa and Central America later this month.

Still reeling from the Gambia’s decision to break off diplomatic ties in November, Ma has announced an eight-day swing through Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe and Honduras beginning on January 23.

The Gambia’s unexpected departure left Taiwan with formal diplomatic ties with just 22 countries. Ma’s upcoming trip was seen by analysts as an effort to make sure the tiny West African nation does not inspire other allies to shutter their missions.

“Isn’t it quite obvious?” said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei.

The loss of the Gambia came as such a blow because Taipei had hoped its improved ties with Beijing had sheltered it from the possibility of more diplomatic exits. The long-time rivals are believed that have a tacit understanding not to woo each other’s allies.

Ma’s government has said there was no evidence Beijing played a role in the Gambia’s decision or that it intends to establish ties with the country.

But the Taiwanese foreign ministry admitted that the island needs to “re-examine its relations with its 22 diplomatic allies and make necessary adjustments in the allocation of diplomatic resources”.

On Tuesday, Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Simon Ko said Ma’s upcoming trip would allow the president to bolster existing relationships, especially with Sao Tome and Principe, which is the only ally Ma has not visited during his more than five years as president.

“The trip is aimed at cementing ties with Sao Tome, as well as Honduras,” Ko said. Ma also decided to drop by Burkina Faso while in the region.

Ma originally planned to visit Sao Tome in November 2012, but had to cancel because of President Manuel Pinto Da Costa’s schedule. Ma was invited back late last year.

Honduras has also invited Ma to attend the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernandez on January 27.

Ma was expected to make a refuelling stop in Los Angeles, where the United States has previously allowed the Taiwanese president to pass through. But Ko would not say whether Ma had received additional German approval for a possible stop in Frankfurt.