Taiwan must rethink cross-strait relations as it loses diplomatic partners

As the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China has become increasingly difficult, Beijing has continued to squeeze Taipei’s international space. And it is unrealistic to think that this will not continue

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 4:38am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 4:38am

Taiwan has invested heavily in consolidating ties with its dwindling ranks of diplomatic partners to boost its international recognition in the face of relentless inroads by Beijing, to no avail. The latest defection is the Dominican Republic, which this week established  diplomatic relations with mainland China and cutting ties with Taipei.

This was Beijing’s second major success recently in a diplomatic offensive in the Latin American and Caribbean region, which the United States sees as its own backyard. 

Why China hopes Taiwan’s latest diplomatic loss will give the US pause

The Dominican Republic is the region’s second fastest growing economy there after Panama, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to mainland China last year. The region is also home to more than half of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic partners.

So the Dominican Republic’s decision comes as a heavy blow. Analysts also see mainland China’s success in wooing the Caribbean nation with infrastructure aid as a warning to the US, which has been strengthening ties with Taiwan to counter Beijing, against using the island as a geopolitical pawn. 

It is two years since Beijing resumed its diplomatic offensive against Taiwan, put on hold during the government of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang led by Ma Ying-jeou. Unlike the latter, his successor Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, refused to publicly endorse the one-China principle, an understanding that leaves each side to determine what it means. As a result relations have become increasingly difficult, with Beijing bent on further squeezing Taipei’s international space. 

Payback time? Beijing, Dominican Republic and Tsai’s appointments

The place to watch is the Vatican, Taiwan’s sole remaining diplomatic partner in Europe, which is locked in negotiations with Beijing over the terms of restoration of ties severed in 1951. Where there is a will there is a way.

The Vatican is keen to re-establish formal links with the mainland’s Catholics. Beijing would gain at Taiwan’s expense from agreement with the Vatican. The reason why some Latin American countries maintain ties with Taiwan is that they are Catholic. If the Vatican severs ties the chances are that they would follow suit. 

Tsai has accused Beijing of unilaterally undermining the peaceful status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But Taipei must understand that given mainland China’s rising economic and political power, choosing sides is a no-brainer for most countries.

Opinion: Even powerful Beijing can’t sever Taiwan’s links to the world

Taiwan needs to rethink its cross-strait relations. It would be unrealistic to think its international space will not be further squeezed. Tsai is showing no sign of backing down. Evidence of that – following the appointment as premier last September of former Tainan mayor William Lai Ching-te, known for his pro-independence stance – is the more recent installation of a number of DPP heavyweights in key cabinet posts.