Beijing dangles the carrot over the Taiwan issue

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By Alfred Sasako


IF you think China would let go of Taiwan that easily, if at all, think again. That message was made clear repeatedly to a visiting Pacific Islands delegation, which spent the last 10 days traveling the richer provinces on the east coast of China.

The 15-member delegation consisting of Members of Parliament, senior officials and others, wound up their familiarisation visit of China yesterday (Wednesday 27th Sept). They are heading home today (Friday 28) after the visit which took in Guangdong Province, Zhujiajian Province, Hangzhou Province and the capital Beijing, China’s government seat of power.

Although Honiara does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing, Solomon Islands participated in the visit. The President of the Democratic Alliance Party (DAP), John Teddie Usuramo and his Vice President, Oscar Vahimana represented Solomon Islands.

“This visit was an eye-opener for most of us who are here for the first time,” delegation leader and first time Opposition MP, Robert Naguri of Papua New Guinea told our host.

In any and all of the briefings on economic and social development of China, the issue of Taiwan was never missed.

“Taiwan is an integral part of China. Anyone including countries in the Pacific Islands that have so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan is a breach of our One-China Policy,” Vice Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC), Guo Yezhou told us in pre-dinner briefing on Tuesday in Beijing.

“For us, it is the question of sovereignty – our sovereignty,” Mr Guo said.

Then as in previous occasions came the punch line.

“China will continue to cooperate with Pacific Island countries that have diplomatic relations with us. They will be assisted economically as well as in other areas of need,” he said.

In more ways than one, it is a line choreographed to deliver maximum effect. And it does, particularly in the ears of delegates whose island countries have stitched up diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Mr Du Qiwen, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Special Envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum, echoed similar sentiments, adding China “advocates cooperation instead of confrontation” in a briefing earlier that Tuesday afternoon.

“We feel we need to work together,” Mr Du told delegates

“Solomon Islands should seriously consider joining us in establishing diplomatic relations with China. Our countries are getting ahead in development because of Chinese funding,” some delegates would say to us.

Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are beneficiaries of China’s economic support over the years.

And it is not the China of 1983 as we knew it then that we are dealing with today.

In 1983, then Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni dispatched a delegation to Beijing to negotiate diplomatic relations with China. What delegation members, including the late Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, did not know was that the witty Mamaloni also sent another delegation to Taiwan on the same mission.

All China could offer at the time was USD20, 000 in annual budgetary grants. It so happened that while the negotiations in Beijing were still going on that the announcement of Solomon Islands tying the knot with Taiwan was made.

Formal dealings with Beijing ended there and then.

China, on the other hand continued to work behind the scene, addressing its own economic and social agenda, putting in place the necessary framework from which it would launch its bid to be a super power player that it is today.

In the space of just 34 short years since our diplomatic attempt failed, China has become the number two economic super power, taking over from Japan, which held that position for many, many years.

At the same time, China has established the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with a USD50 billion to get it off the ground. Initial resistance by the World Bank and some Western governments including the United States of America has died away. They have now taken up membership of this global lending institution designed to address infrastructure development in the Asia-Pacific region.

Using its phenomenal economic growth as a springboard for bigger and better things, China is today looking further afield.

Beijing for example, is eyeing the number one global spot as a military and economic super power. The direction to achieve its global ambition is expected to be consummated by the 19th National Congress of the 80 million-member strong Communist Party when it convenes in Beijing on October 18.

And by all counts, China may not be too far away from achieving that objective.

To show off its economic prowess, China has lengthened the strand from which it dangles the carrot to woo all Pacific Island nations.

In 2013 for example when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Fiji for a meeting with its diplomatic allies in the Pacific, he announced a USD2 billion funding facility for Pacific Island countries.

The funds are from China Development Bank and the Exim Bank of China. They come in both commercial and concessional loans – commercial interest rates for countries outside the Pacific-China diplomatic fold and concessional rates for diplomatic allies in the Pacific.

That facility remains open today even to countries like Solomon Islands, which continues its recognition of Taiwan.

Skeptics might be wondering why all of a sudden China is doing all this today. A brief look behind the scene might give us an idea whether China’s influence is sustainable and why.

At the end of last year, official record shows China’s population had reached 1.38 billion people. In the same year, its GDP stood at around USD11.2 trillion. Its total value of imports and exports stood at USD3.7 trillion, according to official figures.

Beijing has spread its wings far and wide, poaching for instance, countries that once enjoyed diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Panama in South America was the latest casualty, switching relations to Beijing in favour of the former’s preference for development rather than free money with little or no accountability.

And that is the difference. While Taiwan provided hard cash to its allies to spend as they wished, China prefers delivering tangible development on the ground to its island allies.

China’s approach unfortunately is the bitter medicine for pro-Taiwan politicians to swallow easily.

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