Taiwan has suffered a major foreign policy setback after Sao Tome and Principe, a tiny country on the western coast of Africa, announced that it would break off diplomatic relations with Taipei and re-establish ties with Beijing.
While little is known about this tiny African country, also little known is the fact that Beijing owes its successful re-establishment of foreign relations with Sao Tome to the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation Between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries, or more often known as Forum Macao.
The group was founded in 2003 by China, Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and East Timor.
Despite the lukewarm response from Brazil, Forum Macao has been taken very seriously by other members. And Beijing, too, has attached great importance to the organization, not least because of the fact that among them, Angola is the second largest oil producer in Africa.
Since Sao Tome had no diplomatic relations with China in the past, it could only attend the forum as an observer. It wasn’t until now that Sao Tome, a country roughly the size of Hong Kong with a population of just 200,000, can finally become an official member of Forum Macao.
Over the years, Taipei has offered substantial economic aid to Sao Tome. The reason the country still chose to cast aside Taiwan and befriend China is that Beijing cannot only offer investment capital and economic aid as Taipei could, but can also provide an internationally recognized platform for multilateral economic cooperation in the long run, something that Taipei could never do.
Besides, the benefits are mutual. Apart from trying to teach the independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen a lesson, the reason Beijing is so eager to form ties with Sao Tome is that the country is rich in oil both within its territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone, an energy treasure which has remained largely untapped.
If China can gain exclusive drilling rights off the coast of Sao Tome, together with the huge proven oil reserves in Angola, Beijing will then be able to secure vast and sustainable oil supplies from that part of the world.
On the other hand, Forum Macao has also provided a rare opportunity for Macau to flex its muscle in the international arena and show its strategic value to the mainland.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 11
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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