China Pressures Taiwan By Flipping Its Friends

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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China is attempting to restrict Taiwan’s access to the world — as tensions between the two sides mount — by turning the self-ruled island’s international partners.

In the past month, São Tomé and Príncipe flipped, Nigeria snubbed Taiwan and demoted it to a lesser diplomatic status, and Beijing pressured Singapore to adhere to the “one-China” policy.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is in Latin America strengthening ties with several regional countries, much to China’s displeasure.

The loss of São Tomé in late December, which China’s foreign ministry heralded as a “return to the right track of the ‘one-China principle,'” reduced the number of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to 21. In comparison, China is recognized by 170 countries.

“This is the beginning of a trend,” Chang Ya-chung, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University, told The Wall Street Journal. “From now on, Beijing will be very aggressive in poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and it will take a welcoming stance on any countries that want to side with Beijing.”

Nigeria asked Taiwan Wednesday to move its representative office from Abuja, the capital, to Lagos, the commercial center, the same day that the Chinese foreign minister promised to invest $40 billion in Nigeria.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said that Taiwan would have no diplomatic representation and its “trade mission” in Lagos would be operated by a “skeletal staff.”

“The foreign ministry seriously objects and condemns the unreasonable actions by the Nigerian government,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry replied Thursday.

China seized several armored vehicles in Hong Kong in November after Singapore conducted joint military drills with Taiwan. The seizure was initially reported as a documentation problem, according to the Financial Times.

China has not yet returned the vehicles.

“First, it is hoped that all countries including Singapore will adhere to the one-China principle,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Monday when asked why China had not yet returned the seized vehicles. “This is the prerequisite for the development of relations between China and the rest of the world.”

Some observers believe Beijing will attempt to force concessions out of Singapore.

Between 2000 and 2008, China managed to flip nine of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners — namely Costa Rica, Malawi, Chad, Senegal, Grenada, Vanuatu, Dominica, Liberia, Macedonia.

China reduced the pressure on Taiwan under during former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration; however, tensions increased after Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects aspects of the one-China policy, took office last year.

Official communication between Beijing and Taipei has been cut.

After President-elect Donald Trump broke protocol and accepted a call from Tsai and then questioned the one-China policy in public statements, China expressed anger and outrage. The current administration’s decision to allow the Taiwanese president to make a transit stop in Houston on her way to Latin America triggered a similar response.

China’s efforts to isolate Taiwan from its diplomatic partners are clearly intended to send a message.

“This is a message to Tsai that don’t be naive to think just because you had a phone call with the president-elect of the United States that it will change everything,” Lin Chong-Pin, a former Taiwan deputy defense minister, told The Wall Street Journal.

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