A “diplomatic tug-of-war” between China and Taiwan will spur a new wave of aid spending in the Pacific, a former Chinese diplomat predicts.
Taiwan reacted furiously on Tuesday to the Dominican Republic’s announcement in Beijing that it would end official recognition of Taiwan, after 77 years, and switch to recognise China, Sydney Morning Herald reports.
China had pledged US$3 billion to the Latin American country in low interest loans and financing for highway and railway projects, an aviation computer system and gas and hydro power plants, Taiwanese officials told media.
Australian National University research fellow Denghua Zhang, who spent five years as a Chinese diplomat in the Pacific, says diplomatic competition between China and Taiwan has “revitalised”.
“As six of Taiwan’s 19 diplomatic allies are Pacific Island countries, this region will seemingly become a focus of the diplomatic tug-of-war. Foreign aid could play a prominent role in the process,” he wrote on Wednesday.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Dominican Republic for accepting China’s “overblown promises of investment and aid”.
Taiwan, which had recently pledged US$35 million in military facilities, two helicopters, 90 Humvees and 100 motorcycles, as well as a plan to build the Dominican Republic into the “Silicon Valley of the Caribbean”, would immediately end its aid programs, a Taiwanese statement said.
“The Ministry condemns China’s contemptible decision to use dollar diplomacy to wrest away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.”
Four of Taiwan’s former diplomatic allies have switched their allegiance to China since the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen won the island’s presidency in 2016.
Chinese state media trumpeted the latest switch on evening TV news bulletins and the front pages of newspapers on Wednesday.
China Daily wrote in an editorial: “It shows that no matter how hard the Taiwan authorities try to maintain the island’s ‘international space’, their efforts to secure recognition of the island as an ‘independent country’ are doomed to failure.”
The hawkish Global Times noted that 50 of the Humvees had already been delivered to the Dominican Republic by Taiwan and were unlikely to be returned.
Global Times also listed Taiwan’s remaining Pacific allies: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
Chinese aid spending in the Pacific has attracted recent controversy in Australia, amid concern China was seeking to build influence in Australia’s neighbourhood, and loans were placing a debt burden on small nations such as Tonga.
Zhang wrote that China’s overseas aid program was restructured in April, with a standalone agency established to monitor deals and put greater focus on using aid as a tool to further its diplomatic aims.
The previously fragmented aid program had in the past tended to benefit the commercial aims of Chinese companies.
Diplomatic competition between Taiwan and China in the Pacific was fierce a decade ago, the last time the independence-leaning DPP was in power in Taiwan.