China expects to wean away Taiwan’s last Africa ally soon

President Tsai Ing-wen speaks to the media, after El Salvador ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in Taipei, Taiwan, August 2018. (Reuters pic)

BEIJING/TAIPEI: China expects self-ruled Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Africa, the Kingdom of eSwatini, will switch to Beijing soon, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday, a day after China won over a third Taipei ally this year.

Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 17 countries, almost all small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who has vowed not to bow to Chinese pressure, came under opposition criticism on Wednesday amid calls for a more friendlier policy towards Beijing.

Taiwan vowed on Tuesday to fight China’s “increasingly out of control” behaviour after Taipei lost another ally to Beijing when El Salvador became the third country to switch allegiances to China this year.

Ahead of next month’s summit between China and African leaders in Beijing, China has been upping the pressure on Taiwan’s last remaining ally on the continent, eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to come over to China’s side, diplomatic sources say.

Briefing reporters in Beijing about the summit, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong that eSwatini did not have relations with China “for reasons that everyone knows”.

“We look forward to and hope that all African nations, with none left behind, can take part in positive China-Africa cooperation, and become a member of the largest family get together,” Chen said.

“I believe that this is not just the pursuit of China, it is also a widespread shared expectation of African nations. I believe that this target can in the not too distant future be realised,” he added, without elaborating.

Speaking on Monday, eSwatini government spokesman Percy Simelane said he was unaware of any plans about China.

“Up until or otherwise told we remain with Taiwan,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze told Reuters he will have a clearer picture on the country’s position next Monday, adding that he still has to meet the king on the issue. He did not elaborate.

Enormous mistake

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed not to bow to Chinese pressure, Taipei has accused Beijing of offering generous aid and loan packages to lure its allies across, charges China denies.

The island’s biggest opposition group, the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), urged a “better alternative” following what it described as “enormous mistakes” in Tsai’s policy towards China.

“The ruling party has the responsibility to think of a better cross-strait policy … Relations with China have turned stagnant and are frozen,” KMT spokesman Mong-kai Hung told Reuters.

Yu-fang Lin, a KMT lawmaker who leads the diplomacy and defence committee in Taiwan’s parliament, urged Tsai to recognise the “one China” principle, an agreement reached between Beijing and then-ruling KMT government in 1992, under which both agreed there is only one China, with each having their own interpretation of what that means.

“She should bravely tell her supporters they need a friendlier policy to China, this way there would be more support for her,” Lin said.

China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai’s election as Beijing fears she wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. She says she wants to maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy.

State-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times said in a Wednesday editorial that China did not have to “pay a fortune to steal Taiwan’s ‘allies'”.

“Many of the island’s ‘allies’ have a larger trade volume with China than with Taiwan. Their establishment of diplomatic ties with the Chinese mainland is an irresistible trend. It is only a matter of time before Taiwan has zero ‘allies.'”