by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Facebook

RECENT COMMENTS by KMT legislators in the Legislative Yuan focused on fire on Minister of Foreign Affair Joseph Wu for Taiwan’s loss of diplomatic allies. In particular, a number of KMT legislators called on Wu to resign. Chen I-Hsin, a KMT legislator, even called on Wu to kill himself in apology. 

Parsing through the hyperbolic rhetoric, one can observe the KMT attempting to frame Taiwan’s loss of more of its few remaining diplomatic allies as a fault of the Tsai administration. Taiwan lost Nicaragua as a diplomatic ally earlier this month, following which Nicaragua switched recognition to the PRC. 

Tsai began her first term with twenty-one diplomatic allies. Following the loss of Nicaragua, Taiwan now has fourteen diplomatic allies, including the Vatican. Wu previously vowed in May 2020 that Taiwan would not lose any further diplomatic allies in Tsai’s second term, but evidently this has not been possible. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu. Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Facebook

It cannot be ruled out that Taiwan will lose more diplomatic allies in the near future, with newly elected Honduran president Xiomara Castro originally stating that she intended to switch recognition to the PRC. However, Castro backed away from this position once she took office, perhaps hoping to avoid interference from the US. 

Taiwan is larger than all of its diplomatic allies in terms of the size of its economy and population. Taiwan’s main reason for maintaining relations with its allies is so that they speak up for it in international organizations that Taiwan is not a member of, such as UN bodies, calling for Taiwan’s inclusion. 

Yet Taiwan has been accused of “dollar diplomacy” with regards to its allies, in that it funds infrastructure development projects or is even is accused of providing kickbacks to corrupt politicians in return for recognition. Likewise, many of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are regimes with questionable human rights records, including Nicaragua, Eswatini, and others. 

China has taken to poaching diplomatic allies of Taiwan since the Tsai administration took office, by offering its own economic incentives in return for a switch in recognition, as well as threatening retaliation otherwise. China refrained from doing so when Ma Ying-jeou was president of Taiwan. 

Refraining from poaching diplomatic allies of Taiwan when Ma held power was a way of bolstering the KMT’s traditional claim that it is the only political party in Taiwan able to maintain stable cross-strait relations. The KMT has sought to use this to justify why it and not the DPP should hold political power. 

Yet, as seen with the attacks on Wu and the Tsai administration, the KMT is attempting to deflect blame onto the Tsai administration for the loss of diplomatic allies, as though it were the sheer incompetence of the Tsai administration that leads to this phenomenon rather than Chinese actions. The fact that China did not poach diplomatic allies under Ma is used to frame this as the norm, while the loss of diplomatic allies under Tsai occurs not due to China, but due to Tsai’s incompetence. 

President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook

Nevertheless, one notes the Tsai administration has significantly strengthened Taiwan’s relations with the US, Taiwan’s major security guarantor from the threat of Chinese invasion, as most recently observed in a series of diplomatic visits to Taiwan by US elected officials. To this extent, one is currently seeing an unprecedented wave of global support for Taiwan, including from Japan, eastern European countries, and more. 

This resulted in a European diplomatic tour for Wu that could have scarcely have been imagined even just a few years earlier as well as strengthening trade ties with Lithuania and Slovakia, with the former calling for speeding up access to the Taiwanese market and the latter signing MOUs with Taiwan on economic cooperation. This is how Wu sought to defend himself to the KMT, touting that Taiwan’s unofficial diplomatic relationships are more important than its official ones. 

At the same time, one expects this defense to be ignored by members of the KMT and the pan-Blue camp. Namely, there is a way in which KMT members attacking Wu on the issue of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are playing to their base, with Taiwan’s remaining allies having a large pride of place in ROC nationalism. This may be what KMT politicians are leveraging on, in drumming up outrage against the DPP from their base, at a time in which the deep Blue elements of the party are increasingly dominant. 

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