Pressured By China, Taiwan Stands To Lose Its Most Crucial Diplomatic Ally

by Ralph Jennings / August 11, 2016/ Forbes

Taiwan has 22 diplomatic allies, mostly small countries that look to it for development aid. China and Taiwan, political rivals of seven decades, used to play checkbook diplomacy to buy off each other’s friends and Taiwan with bigger aid packages, and Taiwan came out the net loser before the two sides called a truce in 2008 to pursue stronger relations with each other. China sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its own turf rather than as a country entitled to foreign relations, hence the fighting. More countries, about 170, recognize China largely because of its global economic clout.

Yet the drop in Taiwan’s formal allies has had little real impact on the its international status, as it can still count on the remaining few when it needs to assert legitimacy such as a voice in the United Nations where Taiwan itself has no seat. Taiwan also has strong unofficial ties with Japan and the United States, which also sells it arms.

But one Taiwan ally, the Vatican, carries more weight than the others, which are in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the South Pacific. Taiwan now stands to lose the Vatican to China, a hit to the Taipei government’s dignity as well as its international exposure.

The Vatican matters to Taiwan because it’s the only ally from a developed part of the world and represents confirmation for Taiwan’s democracy along with a “rebuke” to its old rival China, notes Alan Romberg, East Asia Program director with Washington think tank the Stimson Center.

Pope Francis is widely reported to be engaging an eager China about establishing relations where none exists today. If the Vatican signs on with China, Beijing is unlikely to let it stick with Taiwan. The two governments still don’t quite get along and Taiwan’s distrusting president who took office in May has highlighted the tense relations. Read more…

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