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Taiwan: the significance of diplomatic ties

· Emily Clifford,Diplomacy,Analysis

Australia’s recently renewed allegiance to the US, while trying to maintain amicable relations with China as its largest trading partner, is complicated by macro multi-dimensional issues including the ongoing trade spat between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S President Donald Trump and global tension over protests and escalating violence in Hong Kong. Even seemingly distant issues like the move by the Solomon Islands to switch its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of an allegiance to the People’s Republic of China in September, creates complexity.

Taiwanese Leader, Tsai Ing-Wen has spoken against the pressure from Beijing for reunification of the Island. In response to the Solomon Islands switch, Taiwan ‘strongly condemned’ and severed relations with its largest remaining ally in the Pacific and removed embassy officials from the Island’s capital in order to preserve national dignity.

Taiwan’s demand to be recognised as a self-governing entity, has remained a sensitive and non-negotiable issue in China. The principle of One China refers to the acknowledgment by the U.S government that while there are Chinese people living on either side of the Taiwan Strait there is only one China, the People’s Republic of China, one official government and that Taiwan is part of China. Although all parties involved interpret the One China Policy in different ways, official acknowledgement of the basic principles of the policy allows for stability across the Taiwan Strait. The recognition and continued support of the One China Policy is a core component of China’s relationship with the U.S. The Policy’s continued acceptance in the wider global community is of great importance to the government of the People’s Republic of China as state sovereignty and national ideals of unity, which include the province of Taiwan, are central to the Chinese government’s political identity and legitimacy.

Since 2016 when the Beijing-Taipei diplomatic truce has lapsed, six countries have shifted their diplomatic alliance to China’s mainland, recognising the One China Policy. Currently Taiwan maintains only 16 allies worldwide who officially recognise Taiwan as a separate country. While the loss of several major allies has economic implications, Taiwan remains a significant player in the global arena. Over the last three decades, the province has become a thriving democracy that allows freedom of speech and maintains a free press.

Taiwan has unofficial trade relations with major international players and has an historic and secure relationship with the United States that is deep-rooted under the policy that binds them. The One China Policy remains delicate, but established, and upholds that no power can change the status quo of this policy without consent of the others. This gives Taiwan protection and allows the island to retain some autonomy as well as to guard the island from China’s expanding economic and military power. The United States continues to be the region’s largest defensive arms supplier to Taiwan

Under Tsai, the Taiwanese government is planning to push for further acknowledgment of Taiwan in order to achieve closer bi-lateral relations with the United States and their allies across the Strait. In response to the recent decision in Pacific region, the United States Ambassador (to the Solomon Islands) said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the decision as it would increase tensions between Taiwan and the Mainland and disturb status quo for regional stability. Subsequently, the United States have reported to be reconsidering aid and commitment to the Pacific Island after the decision was announced to cut ties with Taiwan.

This aid could in large part be to do with balancing the pledge from Beijing, which accompanied the Solomon Islands announcement, to guarantee financial support to the region (AUD$730m). This influx of aid comes at a critical time when the relations between Australia and the Pacific are fragile after the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu while Australia continues to find itself in the middle of the wider Sino-US political debate.

Emily Clifford is a Policy Analyst at FPL Advisory.

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