Taiwan’s Pacific “Diplomatic Time Bomb”: Elections are coming！
Associate Research Fellow, Taiwan Strategy Research Association
PhD, International Relations and Strategic Study Institute of Tamkang University
Taiwan’s President Tsai is currently on a round of state visits to three of Taipei’s six Pacific Island diplomatic allies: Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands. The other three Pacific Island states that give diplomatic allegiance to the Republic of China (ROC) - as Taiwan is officially known - are Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.
The latter country, which is the biggest in terms of population, landmass and resources among Taiwan’s diplomatic associates in the Pacific, is going to hold general elections on April 3. In spite of the warm welcome and reassurances that the ROC Deputy Foreign Minister Hsu Szu-chien has received on the occasion of his visit to the Solomons earlier this month, Taipei has serious reasons for not discounting the prospect of Honiara staging a diplomatic switch to Beijing. China’s economic and political influence reaches very deep and far in the Melanesian archipelago where politicians - including a former Prime Minister - are openly saying that, after the polls are closed, the 660,000-people archipelago will think its relationship with Taiwan over.
The chances of seeing the Solomon Islands crossing the Taiwan Strait diplomatically are concrete. After all, China is the destination of 62 percent of the financially-troubled island state’s export. Also, Beijing can invest liberally in the atrophic tourism industry of the Solomons and, once formal relations are established, send scores of tourists to its new Melanesian friend. Last but not least, China can provide generous and “sexy” loans and much-needed infrastructural aid. Of course, other arguments and means, besides those listed above, can be used to win the favor of the local political elites. By the way, the influx of Chinese migrants in the country is continuing unabated.
Right after the elections, Beijing may also offer a fat one-time aid package to lure Honiara into its diplo-sphere. In such a case, it is unlikely that Taiwan would be willing or able to outbid China for the sake of persuading its ally to stay in the fold. Not even with the support of Western partners like Australia and the United States. Power nowadays runs out of the generosity of the purse, not of the barrel of the gun. Taipei has recently committed around $US29 million in strategic loans for a stadium for the 2023 Pacific Games. Yet, it could not be enough to keep Honiara in its orbit.
Assuming that the Taiwanese are already regarding the Solomon Islands as lost, President Tsai’s strategy is thus one of consolidation of relations with Taipei’s Micronesian allies. The current administrations in those states are actually well-disposed toward and loyal to Taiwan. Yet, elections are scheduled in each one of them later this year or in early 2020. China knows it only too well. And it is acting accordingly. In fact, the defection of one or more of Taiwan’s allies in the Pacific, a quadrant in which Taipei has to date been able not to lose any friend to Beijing, would substantially impact on Taiwanese domestic politics. Even more so since the next months are going to a be a long campaign period for the January 2020 presidential elections. Brace yourselves, elections are coming!
Picture Source：climate.org, http://climate.org/submerging-paradise-climate-change-in-the-pacific-islands/