China and Taiwan: Diplomatic Island Hopping

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Im competition between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition, there is a new defector. The Solomon Islands, a small island nation in the South Pacific, have decided to abandon their existing ties with Taiwan since 1983 and recognize the People's Republic of China instead. According to a report by the Taiwanese news agency CNA, the country's cabinet with 600,000 inhabitants has taken the decision on Monday. Earlier, members of the Solomonic government visited Beijing and a number of South Pacific states with ties to China. For Taiwan, the step is a setback. In the spring, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso had already changed sides. Only 16 states worldwide recognize the government in Taipei.

Till Fähnder

For years, Beijing and Taipei in the South Pacific vie for recognition by the insular small states there. With the checkbook, both countries buy their friendships. In Oceania, the island world to the east and north of Australia, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands still recognize Taiwan. Beijing has relations with the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu. Now the Solomon Islands are added. Like most of these countries, they are scarred by poverty, civil wars and frequent military coups. A regional Australian-led peacekeeping mission left the country only a few years ago.

For Beijing, the decision is a success in trying to isolate Taiwan more and more internationally. Since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as President, the People's Republic has significantly expanded its involvement in the region. The South Pacific has been declared an extended part of the “New Silk Road”.

Important defense line of the Americans

Militarily, the South Pacific for China is also important in strategic competition with America. This is part of the “Second Island Chain”, an important defense line in the geostrategic concept of the Americans. The area is also close to shipping lines from China to South America. In addition, there are rich fishing grounds and large reserves of mineral resources in the deep sea.

China has benefited in recent years from the fact that the traditional dominant powers, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and France, have been neglecting the region recently. Now, however, Beijing's influence has channeled these countries' focus to Oceania. Since the Cold War, the strategic interest in the region has not been as great as it has been today, said Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum, Meg Taylor, at a security conference in Singapore in June. Due to its geographical location, the region is now at the center of geostrategic policy. According to the Secretary-General, who is from Papua New Guinea, the situation in the area is becoming more “complex”.

Especially the big neighbor Australia is worried about a dominance of China in his backyard. Canberra was alarmed by rumors that China wanted to build a naval base in Vanuatu or Papua New Guinea. This has not been confirmed yet. Nevertheless, Australia and Papua New Guinea have announced the construction of their own common military base with American support on the island of Manus.

In discussing whether the Solomon Islands would now diplomatically recognize China, it was also alleged that Beijing was trying to “blackmail” the country. In fact, the Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea, are one of the countries most dependent on foreign aid. Although it had no relationship with China so far, Beijing is already the largest buyer of exports from the small state. In the country itself, the step was therefore criticized. MEPs warned of the consequences for democracy and of a “debt trap”. China is already the largest donor to Australia after Australia. Governments have benefited from Beijing's policy of low-interest loans.

It's about survival

However, critics regularly point out the shortcomings of Chinese investment. They usually go into the construction of prestigious projects, such as government buildings, sports stadiums and conference centers, which benefit mainly politicians. Often they are also built by Chinese companies with Chinese workers. The island population is not included.

But there is also criticism from the help from Taiwan. The money does not reach the needy, but seep into the bureaucracy or end up in the pockets of politicians. Overall, checkbook diplomacy has undermined attempts to enforce good governance principles in the region.

In the discussion about strategic competition in the region, many island states do not feel taken seriously. In many cases, their governments have used their skills to play off the powers against each other. China's commitment is to build much-needed infrastructure and allow countries to compete more effectively with other major powers. Meg Taylor from the Pacific Island Forum pointed out in June in Singapore that, because of climate change and its consequences, the shallow South Pacific island states are in the end completely in the political arena anyway: it is about survival.

(TagToTranslate) Meg Taylor (t) Tsai Ing-wen (t) Island Hopping (t) China (t) Beijing (t) Taiwan (t) Australia

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