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Will the China-Taiwan issue, as played out here, change the nature of our conversation?


The announcement of the intention to shift allegiance from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) did not surprise me. What surprised me was that this was stated as policy by the NDP and not the ULP. One would have thought that given his ideological bent, Gonsalves would have been the person leading the charge.I always considered the ULP relationship with Taiwan a strange one, given this country’s deep comradeship with Venezuela and Cuba after 2001. But this is perhaps to misread the situation. Dr Gonsalves had stated some time ago, in echoing Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Forde, that our country had no permanent friends, only permanent interests. In fact, this was stated long before by Lord Palmerston, Britain’s major foreign policy leader in the mid-19th century: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. {{more}}Our interests are eternal and perpetual.” I have never accepted the view that Dr Gonsalves was ideologically driven. I always considered him a practitioner of ‘Realpolitik’, a word indicating being guided by real circumstances, as separate from being overly influenced by any ideological drive or even by ethical or moral principles.

Taiwan’s relationship is easy, not covered in bureaucratic garb, as exists with most international and regional financial institutions and governments that have many strings attached. We have depended heavily on Taiwan, as can be seen in its assistance with the Argyle airport and in many other areas. I can remember some years ago when The News, I believe, had a picture on its front page of a large pot, that if my memory serves me correctly, was donated to the prisons. Taiwan’s very close relationship with our Government, which gives the impression that it goes beyond normal diplomatic relations, might have been an issue in the current scenario. Whatever was needed, once it did not significantly challenge that country’s financial capacity, we were sure to get. The funds were loose, with little accountability.

Our diplomatic relationship with Taiwan dates back to 1981 under the Milton Cato administration. It was strengthened and expanded under the Mitchell regime. Taiwan, in its bid to have voices speaking for it at international fora, has been a good friend. It provided valuable service to this country over the years, but is obviously aware that certain economic realities were bound to confront it at some stage. Of the 190 plus countries that are members of the United Nations, only about 23 ‘recognize’ Taiwan, among them four from CARICOM – Belize, St Lucia, St Kitts/Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The St Lucia relationship went through a bit of a hiccup. In 1997, when the Kenny Anthony government assumed power, it switched allegiance to the People’s Republic of China. With Compton’s party’s resumption of power in 2006, a switch back to Taiwan was made, although it appeared that there were some divisions in the party about this. St Lucia opened an embassy in Taiwan in 2015.

Now what is this China (People’s Republic of China) and Taiwan (Republic of China) issue all about? It dates back to the Chinese Civil War and particularly to 1949, when the Nationalist Government under Chiang Kai-shek withdrew to Taiwan, following the victory of the Communists under Mao Tse Tung. Both sides maintained that they were the legitimate government of all of China, those on Taiwan seeing themselves as the government in exile. Taiwan represented China at the United Nations at a time when the Cold War was in full flow, with hostility between the Eastern Bloc Communist World and the West which claimed to be democratic. Things began to change in 1971 with the People’s Republic of China replacing the Republic of China (Taiwan) as China’s representative at the United Nations. Then, significantly, there was President Nixon and Kissinger’s visit to China in 1972, which took many by surprise. In 1979,

President Carter broke off relations with Taiwan and moved to mainland China, but still continued a relationship with Taiwan although not fully recognizing it. The China–Taiwan situation remains in a state of flux, with many issues still at play.

Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong-Kong had been labelled Asian Tigers from the 1960s-90s, because of their rapid economic strides. The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s disrupted this. Meanwhile, China has risen as a major world power that has been spreading its wings to all corners of the world, including particularly Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. With a population of 1.3 billion, as opposed to Taiwan’s 23.51 million, it has a lot of muscle to throw around. Its movement into the Caribbean has followed the US’s declining geo-political interest in the Caribbean. It has become attractive to Caribbean countries caught up in their financial and economic woes. It has been displaying its economic muscle in the Caribbean, with high-profile projects in Grenada, Dominica, Barbados and elsewhere.

I share the view that the position taken by the NDP will serve to change the nature of the conversation and get rid of the old Communist bogey.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.