Date
22 September 2018
Military honour guards attended a flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Since Tsai Ing-wen assumed office as president in 2016, Taiwan has lost four allies. Photo: Reuters
Military honour guards attended a flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Since Tsai Ing-wen assumed office as president in 2016, Taiwan has lost four allies. Photo: Reuters

Why Taiwan should be worried about losing its friends one by one

Since May 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen took the reins of power, Taiwan has lost four allies. Earlier, not long before she assumed the island’s presidency, there had been another such case. Following those moves, the number of countries that still maintain formal diplomatic recognition to Taipei is now just 18.

However, even though Taiwan is getting increasingly isolated by the mainland around the world, some observers in Taiwan have simply shrugged it off, arguing that losing these so-called “friendly countries” may actually prove a blessing in disguise.

It is because, they said, many of these countries had been milking Taiwan for juicy economic aid over the years.

Meanwhile, there is also a prevailing view in Taiwan that the number of the foreign allies is not important; what matters is which passport, Taiwanese or PRC passport, has more power.

In my view, such view marks short-sightedness and complacency.

In fact, the mainland may have an even deadlier card up its sleeve, which is, to force other countries to stop recognizing the Taiwanese passport and to officially accept a new travel permit for Taiwanese citizens issued by Beijing instead.

Given that Beijing has already managed to force major international airlines to change the name “Taiwan” into either “Chinese Taipei” or “China, Taiwan” on their websites and succeeded in banning Taiwanese passport holders from entering the United Nations headquarters, it is a logical inference that the Taiwanese passport could well be the next target Beijing would be after.

Such a potential threat is very real and imminent. For example, among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia has already virtually become China’s vassal state.

If Beijing succeeds in pressuring countries like Cambodia into rejecting the Taiwanese passport, it could well trigger an “avalanche effect” across the world.

Another possibility is that Beijing may further isolate Taiwan by mounting a full-on campaign against “Taiwan Representative Offices” across the world.

As we all know, over the years these offices have been serving as Taiwan’s de facto embassies or consulates in countries which don’t have formal diplomatic ties with Taipei.

And under most circumstances, staff of the representative offices are often granted a certain degree of diplomatic immunity by the authorities of the countries where they are deployed.

Now the next thing Beijing may do is demand that these countries revoke the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by staffers of the Taiwan representative offices.

The problem is, while Beijing holds all the cards, Taipei simply doesn’t have any counter-strategy to respond.

Given this, one perhaps doesn’t need to say anything more as to what the situation will be like in future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 30

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/RC

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe