Thursday, October 4, 2007

Report of the Taiwan-Africa Summit

Faced with China's diplomatic dominance in Africa, Taiwan cannot rely on winning allies through financial assistance, analysts said yesterday, adding that the nation should seek other forms of strategic partnership.

The first Taiwan-Africa Summit, held in Taipei last month, attended by the nation's five African diplomatic allies, concluded with the signing of a declaration supporting Taiwan's efforts to gain entry to the UN.

Taiwan's diplomatic allies in Africa are Malawi, Swaziland, Gambia, Burkina Faso and Sao Tome and Principe.

The paradox of China’s aid in Africa
Commenting on why these countries had chosen to maintain ties with Taiwan instead of China, Soochow University political science professor Lo Chih-cheng said that they were all opposed to China's diplomatic strategy.

"The relationship between China and African countries is what critics call neo-colonialism," Lo said. In exchange for securing energy and raw materials, Lo said China has been doling out aid and interest-free loans to African countries.

Following the summit, the government hosted a “Taiwan-African Progressive Partnership Forum,” attracting representatives from 40 countries, 35 of which do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and were pressured by China not to attend the event.

Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to double China's aid to Africa from last year's level by 2009 at the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation held in Beijing last November. The package included US$3 billion in loans, US$2 billion in export credits and a US$5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa.

The Chinese also use the continent as a dumping ground for cheaply manufactured goods, Lo said, adding that China did not face complaints from African countries about poor quality, unlike the barrage of complaints it receives from Western countries.

While China has won many construction projects in Africa and created some jobs there, they often import their own workers.

Five categories of China’s allies in Africa
Yen Chen-shen, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University, said that African countries without diplomatic relations with Taiwan could be divided into five different categories.

Some of the countries are caught in bloody civil wars and require UN peace-keeping forces. China, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can use its veto power on peace-keeping issues as leverage with those countries.

This was what led Liberia to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China in October 2003, Yen said.

The second group consists of countries rich in natural resources such as Sudan, Chad and Nigeria. Chad, rich in petroleum reserves, recognized China last year. China's African allies provide it with 25 percent of its oil imports.

With a phenomenal economic growth rate of 9 percent per annum, oil imports accounted for 47 percent of China's total consumption in the first half of last year.

Countries with an ambition to gain international influence comprise the third group, Yen said. Senegal, which ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in October 2005, has replaced the Ivory Coast as the leading French-speaking force on the continent since the latter's political situation worsened in September 2002.

Countries that are too big for Taiwan to handle make up the fourth group, Yen said. Nigeria, for example, has a population six times that of Taiwan and a land area 22 times bigger.

The fifth group consists of countries that have a long relationship with China, such as Mali, which has connections with China because it was once socialist. Problems under Mali's socialist government led to a military coup in 1968. Another coup in 1991 brought a democratic government and a free market economy.

Because China has 48 allies to take care of in Africa, Yen said that each of Taiwan's five African allies gets more attention and more assistance.

"It is wise for them to stay with us," he said.

Taiwan’s Diplomatic Strategy
On the issue of how Taiwan should act to combat China's oppression, Lo said that the nation should consider cooperating with European and Latin American countries to stop China's growing power.

In addition, Taiwan must adjust its strategy and offer other countries what China cannot.

Domestically, the nation must decide whether it wants to channel more funds toward efforts to secure diplomatic ties or toward alternative assistance.

Yen agreed, saying that although democracy is Taiwan's advantage, it is "useless" in Africa.

The nation can, however, make good use of its advantages in high-tech industries and healthcare to build better relations with African countries, Yen said.

Describing China as a "new imperialist," Yen said the nation should make it clear to African countries that Taiwan would not damage their economies by sending illegal immigrants to run businesses there, which would drive up unemployment.

Yen said that he did not think Taiwan's diplomatic strategy required an overhaul, but added that the administration should put less pressure on diplomatic allies to pursue its political agenda.

Although the nation's bid for UN membership faces formidable obstacles, Yen said the administration's over-emphasis on the issue could end up working against it if it pushes the issue in its diplomatic strategy.

Lin Teh-chang, director of the Center for International NGO Studies, said he agreed that Taiwan must tweak its diplomatic strategy.

Although China has more African allies than Taiwan, Beijing's disregard for people's livelihoods, as well as its atrocious human rights record and its backing of abusive regimes, leaves a door open for Taiwan, Yen said.

The government, however, has long ignored this advantage, he said, adding that it is time to allocate more resources to develop relationships with the private sector and NGOs in Africa.

Such relations may take time to develop into official ties, but the effort will eventually pay off, he said.

(Excerpts from Taipei Times)

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