Mon, 10 Aug 2020

Taiwan-China Diplomatic Competition Comes to Somaliland

Voice of America
07 Jul 2020, 06:05 GMT+10

Somaliland, a self-declared independent region of Somalia in east Africa, has formally recognized Taiwan, another government that lacks United Nations recognition.

The establishment of ties between the two self-governing territories provides a boost to Taiwan, which for years has waged a losing battle against Beijing to win or maintain the diplomatic recognition of small nations.

Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu said in a statement on July 1 that the two governments had agreed to establish ties based on "friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law."

"In the spirit of mutual assistance for mutual benefit, Taiwan and Somaliland will engage in cooperation in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, energy, mining, public health, education" and technology, Wu said.

In a tweet responding to the news, Somaliland's President Muse Bihi Abdi said the "Representative Office will be opened soon in Taiwan."

Somaliland is a self-declared state, internationally considered to be an autonomous region of Somalia. China claims Taiwan as its own territory and is opposed to the island's membership in the United Nations.

China cuts off diplomatic ties with countries that recognize Taiwan, a tactic that has left Taipei shut out of most international forums and with just 15 diplomatic allies.

In responding to the announcements, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused Taiwan on Monday of "undermining Somalia's sovereignty and territorial integrity." China maintains ties with the Somali government in Mogadishu and does not recognize the Republic of Somaliland as a sovereign state.

"China firmly opposes Taiwan and Somaliland establishing an official agency or having any form of official exchanges," Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing.

Somaliland is Taiwan's first new ally since 2007 when it formed ties with Saint Lucia. It has also lost diplomatic relations with many countries since 2016. However, the significance of the new relationship with Somaliland remains an open question.

Kharis Ali Templeman, a political scientist at Stanford University, told VOA the agreement represents a small but symbolic breakthrough for Taiwan, as Beijing will continue to try to undermine its diplomatic ties with other nations. Last year, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands chose to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan despite the open opposition of the United States.

China's pressure campaign against Taiwan's international diplomacy has ramped up significantly and, given the size and clout of the People's Republic of China, Taiwan has few tools to push back, Templeman said.

While not a major diplomatic coup for Taiwan, "any move in the other direction would provide a much-needed morale boost to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said Templeman.

His opinion is shared by other analysts.

Thomas J. Shattuck is a research associate in the Asia Program and managing editor at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In an article published last week, he pointed out that "a developing bilateral relationship likely will not amount to much economically or militarily."

Nevertheless, "it could show how the Tsai Ing-wen government may choose to navigate the next four years diplomatically by finding unlikely new partners that are not as beholden to China or the international community," Shattuck said.

"At the very least, it is a change in tempo for Taiwan's diplomatic fortunes since 2016."

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