Taiwan ‘feeling the squeeze’ as Nigeria tells island to close trade office

Taipei told to shut office in capital and open smaller branch in another city in a move announced as the mainland’s foreign minister was visiting West African nation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 2:22am

Taiwan registered a strong protest on Thursday after Nigeria ordered it to close its trade office in the nation’s capital, Abuja, as analysts observed that Taipei’s diplomatic space is shrinking under pressure from Beijing.

A statement from Taiwan’s foreign ministry accused Nigeria of collaborating with Beijing to make it look like Taipei had suffered another diplomatic setback, as the mainland attempts to limit its friends and allies overseas.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Wednesday that his government had ordered Taiwan to close its office in Abuja and open a smaller one with a skeleton staff in Lagos. His comments came as mainland China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was visiting the country.

The Taiwanese foreign ministry statement said: “The Republic of China [Taiwan’s official title] and Nigeria do not have diplomatic relations and what Nigeria did in collaborating with mainland China by saying that it is no longer recognising Taiwan as a country and was ending formal ties with us … is unreasonable.

“The foreign ministry seriously objects to and condemns the unreasonable actions by the Nigerian government,” it said.

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The statement urged Nigeria to consider the consequences of its move, as the two sides had agreed to establish trade missions in each other’s territory.

Onyeama told a press conference with Wang on Wednesday that the aim of closing the trade office in Abuja was to highlight ­Nigeria’s commitment to its ties with China and the one-China principle.

“Taiwan will stop enjoying any privileges because it is not a country that is recognised under international law, and under the position we have taken internationally we recognise the People’s Republic of China, the one-China policy,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The dispute with Nigeria came after the tiny African nation Sao Tome and Principe severed its ties with Taiwan last month, leaving the number of countries with ­formal diplomatic ties with Taipei at 21.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and puts pressure on any countries attempting to forge ties with the island or its leaders.

Mainland analysts said that under former president Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan was able to exploit Ma’s warm relations with Beijing to pursue a policy of “pragmatic diplomacy” with countries that it lacked formal ties with.

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“The core problem is how Taiwan handles relations with mainland China. During Ma Ying-jeou’s time, Ma dealt with Beijing in an appropriate manner, so Taiwan’s international space got widened a bit,” said Hu Lingwei, a Taiwan affairs analyst from the Shanghai Institute of East Asian Studies.

“But the situation changed after Tsai Ing-wen became president, since she took a totally different approach to Beijing.”

Zheng Zhenqing, an associate professor of Taiwan studies from Tsinghua University, said the closure of Taipei’s Nigerian trade office clearly showed that Taiwan’s international space had shrunk.

“The reasons are simple: Beijing distrusts Taipei, and Tsai Ing-wen persistently refuses to acknowledge the 1992 consensus,” Zheng said.

“Taiwan will lose more international space if Tsai does not accept the consensus in the future,”

The 1992 consensus is an agreement between Taiwan and the mainland that there is only one China, but that each side is free to define what “China” stands for.

Liu Guoshen, director of the Taiwan Research Institute at ­Xiamen University, said that Taiwan’s future international ties depended on its relationship with Beijing.

“Taipei has the chance to broaden its international space if it manages to have friendly ties with Beijing,” Liu said.

“It’s difficult for Taiwan to broaden the international space they want if Beijing has a trust deficit towards them.”