News broke recently that Panama was ditching Taipei for Beijing. The simple fact is, Taiwan is not big enough to buy it’s diplomatic relations much longer. While 20 sovereign nations still solely recognize Taiwan as the official China over the People’s Republic of China, it must be said, how long can this last?
The BBC has reported that Panama looked to Beijing for its economic endowment. The Minister for Foreign Relations in Taiwan stated that they express “anger and regret” and that Panama”yielded to economic interests by the Beijing authorities”. The irony is, Panama was only interested in Taiwan to begin with because of economic interests. The fact they have switched diplomatic relations only signifies the untenable position of aid and funding for diplomatic relations has become for Taiwan.
It is not Taiwan that is suffering, rather it is the ROC. While Tsai’s administration refuses to formally recognize the 1992 Consensus, Beijing has been using both foreign relations and its tourism to force Taiwan to submit itself to their ideological stance. The 50% drop in Chinese tourists has only affected those in the tourist sector who solely catered to Chinese tourists.
The funny part about Beijing’s attempts to undermine Tsai’s administration is that they seem to be forcing Taiwan to adapt to becoming more independent. The drop in Chinese tourism was expected to have dire consequences on Taiwan’s economic growth. Instead, 2016 saw a stabilized and small increase in the number of tourists coming to Taiwan as reported by Quartz “Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s international department, yet it hosted nearly 10.7 million visitors in 2016, up from 10.4 million in 2015.”
Beijing’s attempts to sabotage Taiwan’s diplomat relations will have a similar effect, in that the administration will be forced to adopt other avenues of diplomatic relations. Taiwan’s de facto embassies, Representative Offices, dot most countries and offer consular and scholarships from the Ministry of Education for students looking to travel and study in Taiwan. The reality is, no matter what Beijing does to diminish Taiwan’s standing in the world, by pushing Tsai’s administration away, they are not bringing Taiwan in line with their reality, but rather, aiding the Taiwanese to bring their own reality into fruition through de facto-esque strategies.
Buying diplomatic relations for aid and funding is not going to last very long, much like Taiwan’s economic model of being low-cost. Of the 20 countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, very few are worth mentioning. Beijing has been using the tactic of propping it’s own agenda on the world stage with African nations backing China’s position on the South China Sea issue because of the massive influx of funding and aid China brings.
Taiwan is essentially doing the same thing by giving funding to small countries, some of which have questionable governments (Although none as bad as the many dictators China supports). Perhaps it is time for Taiwan to look past gaining diplomatic support from small countries. The funding that goes into aid and funding is better suited for funding programmes for its own citizens and the recognition Taiwan gains from diplomatic relations is not beneficial to Taiwan in many regards.
What is clear at this time is that China’s tactics are working, but perhaps not in the way it has envisioned. Its steps to isolate Taiwan with the goal to subjugate it back into the fold and become a bigger Hong Kong, where legislative power lies in Beijing, are far-fetched. If Beijing wants to create better cross-strait relations, it needs a softer approach, but then again, no matter what it does, soft or hard, obvious or subtle, the younger generations are suspicious irregardless and the battle for Beijing to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese is fading into history.
Then again, it seems Beijing’s battle for the hearts and minds of those in Taiwan is a wrong assessment. It is more apparent that tactics used by Beijing to isolate Taiwan on the world stage are targeted to impress and win the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. Taiwan is a scapegoat for Beijing, in the same way Japan is an easy target to rile up nationalistic sentiments to avoid discussing societal problems. The only problem is, Taiwan is left stranded to pick up the pieces while Beijing looks victorious to itself. However, it might not count on how innovative Taiwan can be and that its tactics may be in fact justifying the beliefs of many younger people that Taiwan’s future should be its own, not the image in the minds of the powers that be in Beijing.