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Foreign policy issues


No! I’m not going bananas this week, as one could reasonably expect, given the historic breakthrough by the Fairtrade movement in signing a supply contract with WIBDECO. Rather, we can perhaps take the opportunity to focus in matters pertinent to the foreign policy of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The recent elections in Taiwan bringing about a change of government and Prime Minister Gonsalves’ visit to Turkey surely provide opportunities for visiting this topic.{{more}}

The Republic of China on Taiwan is a major benefactor of St Vincent and the Grenadines, giving generously in response to growing requests by successive governments. The largesse has increased over the last 7/8 years or so, indicating both a solidification of state-to-state relations as well as, one can conclude, gratitude on the part of Taiwan for SVG’s continued support for it. At a time when the People’s Republic of China has assumed massive diplomatic and political weight in the world, and when most Caribbean states have indicated their diplomatic support for Beijing, Taiwan must surely be comforted by the backing of the Vincentian government.

There are some political observers who consider the ULP government’s continuation of the Taiwan political link a major foreign policy coup on the part of Prime Minister Gonsalves. After all, following his election victory in 2001, one could have expected Dr. Gonsalves, given his socialist leanings, to be prone to shift his support towards China. One could almost write the headlines. “Red Ralph chooses Red China,” a perfect platform for the anti-communist propaganda long hurled at the P.M. But he has certainly halted those in their tracks and flummoxed the Opposition. Now the expressed concern is about an apparent over-reliance on Taiwanese aid. Not that the concern is without foundation, but would the situation have been any different if the NDP were in power? Except for ULP criticism, one would suspect that it would be very much the same.

The election results in Taiwan have brought about a change of government, and with it, much speculation. For the Kuomintang, government of Premier-elect Ma Ying-jeou is on record as favouring deepening ties with the Beijing government. Its predecessor, under which SVG has benefited greatly, was more inclined to seek a path leading to possible independence of Taiwan. This course is strongly resisted by China to the extent of even threatening an outbreak of hospitalities so the new more open policy of Ma Ying-jeou would no doubt be welcome in Beijing. One would suspect, however, that the SVG -Taiwan relationship would remain firmly intact.

What is important for us is have a vision of how things would “pan out” down the road and whilst being pragmatic, ensure that our principles are not compromised in the process. A mighty power like the USA has not been able to maintain either principle or consistency on the China question, expediency and the interests of its multi-nationals becoming the dominant factor. Small countries like ours have no mean task in walking the politic tightrope.

Given these realities, the pursuit of a principled, non-aligned foreign policy is especially important for us. Broadening our relations beyond our traditional ‘friends” and seeking relations which are in the best interests of our people must be paramount. In this light, the move to open relations with Turkey is a positive one. Turkey is Muslim and Asian, yet European; a strategic gateway to both Asia (from the west) and Europe (from east). Additionally, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a full member of the European Union. God knows, we need all the friends we can get in those quarters, given the loyalties of some there.

These international developments underline the need for enlightened public discussion and debate on foreign policy issues. Not the crude anti-Chavez and anti-Cuban diatribe spewed from the mouths and pens of the simple-minded. Just after taking office in 2001, the ULP administration had begun to open the door to such foreign policy consultation but this was rapidly shut again. Foreign policy, while conducted by the government, is not the sole preserve of government. In fact any administration has much more to gain, in terms of public understanding of the issues, being able to gauge public opinion and soliciting the advice of its citizenry but facilitating such exchange. In a modern world it is a feature of good performance.