Just as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was transiting in the United States on her official visit to South America, a major diplomatic setback struck: El Salvador suddenly announced that it has decided to break off diplomatic ties with Taipei and switch to Beijing.
What is unique about this case is that the US government immediately lashed out at El Salvador for its decision, and threatened to review its relations with San Salvador.
Washington’s tough stance on the Central American state, to some extent, has served as a comfort to the increasingly isolated Taiwan.
Nevertheless, I believe one actually shouldn’t have been surprised by El Salvador’s sudden change of heart towards Taiwan. Throughout modern history, the country has always been uniquely unpredictable and not afraid of raising controversy when it comes to its foreign policy.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, apart from the Axis powers, El Salvador was probably the only country in the world that officially recognized Manchukuo, the puppet state created by Japan in northeastern China in 1932.
At that time, El Salvador was ruled by right-wing dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, who was highly sympathetic towards Emperor Puyi, the figurehead installed by the Japanese, and who even made an unsuccessful attempt to help the latter flee Manchukuo.
After the Japanese found out about the collusion between Martinez and Puyi, they immediately ordered the embassy of El Salvador in Manchukuo to shut down, thereby resulting in the complete rupture between San Salvador and the Axis powers.
Another example of El Salvador’s maverick tendencies in diplomacy is the country’s position on Tibet.
After the Communist Party of China took power in 1949, El Salvador, which at that time was still maintaining official diplomatic relations with the Kuomintang regime that had already retreated to Taiwan, publicly took sides with the Dalai Lama and called upon Beijing to stop “invading Tibet”.
At one point, El Salvador even attempted to take the Tibet question to the United Nations and put it to a vote, only to get a lukewarm response from the international community.
The fact that El Salvador was trying to raise international concern about the Dalai Lama and Tibet at a time when the place was hardly on the global agenda indicates that the Central American state not only had substantial “international vision”, but was also good at making its presence felt on the world scene by seizing on issues that had gone under the radar of the major powers.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 24
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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