At the beginning of the year, three countries recognized Taiwan as an independent state but 2016 ends with just two remaining on that list. Taiwan and China have been a contentious subject for some time but with every passing year, Taiwan is losing its diplomatic weight. In Africa, only Burkina Faso and Swaziland maintain ties with Taipei. The Gambia had been the last country to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2013 until Sao Tome and Principe restored relations with China this December. Interestingly, while Africa has decided to lean towards the “One China Policy”, the United States’ President-elect, Donald Trump is questioning it and even went as far as taking a congratulatory call from Taipei. If Trump’s foreign policy standing ends up deviating from the “one China policy” while African nations recognize the same policy, could this be an impending policy clash between the USA and Africa?
Donald Trump and the “One China Policy”
After his election victory, Donald Trump received a phone call from the President of Taiwan, Tsa Ing wen which resulted in a furor. China objected and Americans too objected but Trump responded on Twitter, “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”
To put this in context, this was the first phone call between the Taiwanese and an American President-elect in over 35 years. When Fox News asked about his position on China, Trump said, “I heard the call was coming probably one or two hours before. I fully understand the “one China Policy”, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a “one China Policy” unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade. I mean, look, we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation, with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them, with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing, and frankly with not helping us at all with North Korea.”
To Trump, the policy is a bargaining chip, a key to a better trade arrangement between the USA and China. It is safe to say if China strikes an economically conciliatory tone, Trump will make an about turn and start fully supporting the one China policy. He is therefore neither here nor there and his foreign policy could go either way. However, he will not be bossed into doing anything as he said to Fox News, “I don’t want China dictating to me...” and “…why should another nation be able to say I can’t take a call?” It seems China will have a tricky relationship with the USA under Trump.
African countries and the Policy
The African position has been largely uniform in most countries save for Burkina Faso and Swaziland. Kenya best summed up the African angle when it deported 45 Taiwanese nationals to the Chinese mainland over cyber fraud and visa offences. The Kenyan Foreign Minister then said, “We don’t have official relations with Taiwan. We believe in the “One China” Policy.” As recently as this past week, Sao Tome and Principe “ditched Taiwan” and left just 21 countries, the world over supporting Taiwanese sovereignty. Taiwan said it refused to engage in “dollar diplomacy” arguing that the African country was asking for astronomical financial aid. The problem is when it comes with relations with other countries especially those that are still developing, how much they get from the friendship matters. China has done a lot for the continent of Africa and if Taiwan does not intend to pursue this so called “dollar diplomacy”, it might end up losing the rest of its friends. After all, even Trump’s position is influenced by economics; he wants his country’s friendships to make financial sense. Countries are not simple organizations that can be run exclusively on principle, morals and unyielding loyalty. There are people to be fed and development to pursue but it seems Taiwan is ignoring all those simple facts. If Taiwan loses friends in Africa, it will not even be a matter of changes in convictions but simple economics. It makes economic sense to be friends with the second largest economy in the world right not.
Trump’s United States and African states will pursue the same thing: boosts for their economies from their alliances. If China is arrogant and decides not to compromise with the Trump administration, Taiwan might score a big ally but it will not be a matter of principle but economic viability. With the American foreign policy in the coming years clash with that of most African countries? It does not look like it.