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Asia's Game of Thrones
Beijing Chips Away at Taiwan’s Friends

With Panama peeling away from Taiwan this week to establish ties with China, Beijing is making a renewed push to poach the island’s few remaining allies and diminish its representation abroad. Reuters:

China has been pressuring the United Arab Emirates and four other countries to ask Taiwan to rename its representative offices in another sign of diplomatic pressure on the self-ruled island, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. […]

The pressure from Beijing on the UAE, Bahrain, Ecuador, Jordan, and Nigeria follows Panama’s decision this week to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and instead recognize China and its “One China” policy.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement China wanted the five countries to ask Taiwan to use names, such as “Taipei Trade Office”, that do not suggest Taiwanese sovereignty.

“China is acting to suppress us in an impertinent way that has seriously offended the sensibilities of Taiwan’s people,” the statement said.

This is part of a longer trend. Beijing has been steadily picking away at Taiwan’s 20 remaining allies for a while now, many of them small, developing countries in Latin America or Africa that have benefitted from Taipei’s largesse and are now receiving significant investment from Beijing. None of the five countries mentioned here, however, actually have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. In this case, Beijing is objecting to the mere use of the name “Taiwan” for their unofficial missions, which suggests an expansion of China’s efforts to marginalize Taiwan even among countries that do not formally recognize it.

For its part, the United States has been inconsistent in its relationship with Taipei this year, to say the least. The Trump era began with a phone call that spurred high hopes that the U.S. would more strongly support the island, but those early overtures have not exactly been followed up on; to the contrary, Trump may even be delaying an arms sale to Taiwan in an attempt to propitiate China as pressure builds to do something about North Korea’s nuclear progress.

Of course, one has to assume that President Trump—not one to sentimentalize military alliances at all—at least sees value in the U.S. relationship with Taiwan insofar as it annoys the Chinese quite a lot. It would be a pity to grant Beijing any of these kinds of symbolic but nevertheless important victories in pursuit of one-off concessions on pressuring Pyongyang.

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