China re-establishes ties with former Taiwan ally Sao Tome
Taiwan has accused the mainland of taking advantage of the West African state’s financial woes to push the move
Beijing re-established diplomatic ties with Sao Tome and Principe on Monday, six days after the small West African state broke off relations with self-ruled Taiwan.
The move signals the recurrence of a harsh diplomatic war between Beijing and Taipei. It has followed the refusal of the island’s independence-leaning government to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” since President Tsai Ing-wen assumed office in May.
The 1992 consensus is a tacit understanding reached in 1992 that both the mainland and Taiwan recognise there is only one China, but that each can have its own interpretation of what “China” stands for.
Beijing was expected to boost its efforts to bring Taiwan’s allies over to its side, to exert pressure on the pro-independence camp on the island, observers said.
“The next country to set up diplomatic ties with Beijing will be a very influential country,” said a veteran Taiwan affairs expert at a mainland policy think tank, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Beijing is pressuring Tsai in two ways. One is squeezing Taiwan’s international space, such as re-establishing ties with Sao Tome. Another is to enhance communication with the Kuomintang,” the analyst said, referring to the mainland-friendly opposition party in Taiwan.
The relationship between Beijing and the Holy See – the only European state that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan – is warming up, with reports suggesting that the two sides are in the final stages of resuming relations after decades of hostility.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister David Lee said yesterday that the problem between the Holy See and Beijing was complicated, as the two sides were divided on the appointment of bishops and religious freedom. “There are challenges [facing ties between Taipei and the Vatican], but we are confident,” he said.
The mainland and Taiwan came to an unofficial truce after Ma Ying-jeou from the KMT became Taiwan’s president in 2008. But the truce ended after Tsai from the Democratic Progressive Party won the election in January.
Taiwan had as many as 30 allies in the mid-1990s, but now has formal relations with just 21 nations. It has accused Beijing of using chequebook diplomacy, taking advantage of Sao Tome and Principe’s financial woes.
Not all observers think Beijing will get good results by playing diplomatic hardball with Taipei.
“Restarting a diplomatic war will not help Beijing win the hearts of the common Taiwanese,” said Chieh-cheng Huang, director of the Institute of Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.
“Neither do I believe the Tsai government will acknowledge the 1992 consensus, nor do I believe Taiwanese will ask Tsai to step down, even if Beijing takes away several allies in the future.”