Taiwan last Sunday observed the 110th Anniversary of its annual ‘Ten-Ten’ celebrations just as the new Saint Lucia government approaches its first 100 Days in Office, and this four-part series revisits a brief history of direct ties between Saint Lucia and Taiwan, with emphasis on how historical factors have shaped current ties and how Castries and Taipei can each do more today to make the decades-old but still relatively young relationship more beneficial and meaningful to both sides in 2021 — as well as in 2022 and beyond. The first part looked at the history of ties, the second at where ties are today and the third started looking forward to what can be if both sides agree; and this final part points ahead to a landscaped vision often imagined but never painted…
One hundred and eleven (111) years ago the Chinese city of Wuhan was home to an uprising against the day’s rulers that’s today being equally commemorated by both China and Taiwan for the same original reason, but with different interpretations.
One hundred years ago, the sides behind the Wuhan Uprising against the then Hubei military government split and the Communist Party of China (CPC) was born.
Today, the mainland and the island are locked into an endless war of words and wits that’s continued since 1949, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) won the war against the imperial powers and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC), later recognized (in 1971) by the United Nations (UN) and with American support, as the sole representative of China.
For 50 years since US President Richard Nixon accepted the advice of then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to withdraw recognition from Taipei and recognize Beijing, successive Taiwan administrations have either struggled to keep the island separate, seek independence, or improve ties with the mainland.
Between 2008 and 2016, there was a remarkable change in ties, after the Kuomintang (KMT) party that traditionally opposed the CPC entered into a bilateral understanding that brought the two sides the closest they’d ever been since 1949, each agreeing to disagree on fundamental differences, but to also cooperate closely in agreed areas.
That period ended in 2016 after the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) won that year’s election and the new leadership dumped Cross-Strait cooperation in the interest of Independence and pursuit of new ties with Southern Asian neighbors.
The new administration pursued stronger ties with Washington during its first four years, including military assistance, Cross-Strait ties all but severed.
Since 2016 Beijing has constantly accused the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations of violating three bilateral US-China agreements that forbid development of formal US-Taiwan ties.
Ahead of the 111th celebration of ‘Double Ten’, the usual reciprocal heightening of Cross-Strait tensions took place, Beijing insisting reunification is both necessary and inevitable and Taipei claiming the mainland is preparing for a military takeover of the island in or by 2025.
Coming ahead of the next presidential elections in Taiwan due in 2024 (when President Tsai, like her predecessor Ma Ying-jieu, will not be able to run for a second term), it’s much-too-early to try to identify who’ll replace her as the DPP’s candidate.
But if her firm Independence stance and her long record of defying Beijing are to be a continuing DPP goal and aim, Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu, who’s held that position since 2016, would be one to watch.
Regarded as the most hawkish of Taiwan foreign ministers in the new millennium, Wu has been the central figure driving the current administration’s scorched-earth foreign policy of non-cooperation with Beijing while embracing Washington and other nations willing to press China on allowing Taiwan a seat at UN tables.
With both sides deepening their respective mutual policies Plausible Deniability, neither accepts the other’s existence when it comes to Taiwan’s quest for membership of selected UN entities like the World health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
But the world knows that for as long as the CPC runs China, Beijing will always make it clear than any such cooperation will be conditional on agreements requiring a return to the vast improvements in Cross-Strait ties that saw each period of better times.
Nobody believes any US President in the 21st Century will risk another World War, this time with all-mighty China over Taiwan, but if you swallow the propaganda, you’d swear it’ll happen tomorrow.
I have always refrained from imposing my private political views on China-Taiwan ties on readers of my three columns or viewers of my local TV show, all of which (thanks to the ease of connectivity today) have an increasing regional and international following.
I thus always separate my political views from my professional activities, sometimes to the silent disapproval of my friends on both sides of the Strait.
Out of respect for Saint Lucia’s right to choose its partners, I have lived with ties with and have visited both sides of the Strait on several occasions, leaving me with a slightly-better understanding of the historical ties unite and divide the two elected governments of Chinese on both sides.
Always guided by what’s in Saint Lucia’s national interest, when it comes to bilateral ties between Castries and Taipei, I tend not to fan the flames of discord and division.
Asked by friends on both sides in 2016 what my ‘China Dream’ is, I always said it was to be able to fly to one side, cross to the other and return home from the second airport – like flying to Taipei, then to Beijing and then back home, or vice versa.
I strongly believe the time has come for Castries and Taipei to review the mutual benefits of existing ties in the new era.
The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has done a splendid job of flowering its website with statements by Prime Minister Pierre.
Ditto Taiwan Ambassador Peter Chen, who’s watered the local media with more news about Taiwan assistance to Saint Lucia in the past ten weeks than the previous ten months.
The new SLP-led government preserved inherited ties with Taipei and PM Pierre has repeatedly maintained that Saint Lucia’s foreign policy, under his watch, will be non-aligned, avoiding interference in the internal affairs of other states, being friends of all and enemies of none.
The new government still within the traditional 100 Days in Office (today being Day 82) and the First Quarter of the first year of its five-year term, there’s still time for Castries and Taipei to sit at the table and talk about taking actions to take the almost-three-decades-old relationship to new and different, more mutually-beneficial levels.
Traditional approaches should be revisited and necessary adjustments made to harness mutual support in ways that’ll not just address bilateral support at diplomatic levels, but also find ways and means to help more directly help and affect the people on both islands – like the recent redirection of US $4 million (EC $10.8 million) of Taiwanese financial assistance to a national project to repair homes of elderly indigent and disabled Saint Lucians of all political colors and creeds.
Existing support programs should also be revisited with improvements in mind – like support to the island’s banana industry beyond continuing research and improvement of access to international markets to actually finding ways to make a future in and with bananas more attractive at home by expanding interest from just the fruit to every part of the tree, from skin to leaves and stems.
Ditto Coconuts: The industry (yesterday and today) has endless income-generating possibilities harnessing the entire tree — not only the water and jelly but also the shell, branches and leaves, trunks and roots.
Between Coconuts and Bananas alone, there are endless possibilities for Saint Lucians, young and old, to not only find new uses for old products, but also to open endless new doors to give life to the new PM’s dream of encouraging the ‘Turning of Passions into Paychecks’ through the Youth Economy.
Same with all the fruits and plants common on both islands, including those introduced here by Taiwan over the years (and not even talking about Custard Apples that are so popular in both China and Taiwan).
There’s already the popular ‘Seven Crops’ program identifying specific fruits for variety, quality and productivity improvements exhibited through monthly Farmers Markets supported by Taiwan’s Agricultural Mission here and the emphasis can now move to identification of foods and fruits to boost natural immunity in the COVID Age.
Same with the need for new and alternative energy sources: How about Taipei sharing technology helping Castries tap the island’s many renewable energy sources currently going to waste, from sun and wind to rain and waves?
There are so many other areas of mutual experience and interest as islands housing fellow humans that Saint Lucia and Taiwan can share, from sports and culture to health and human services and people-to-people exchanges.
Chinese – from the mainland or the island — are no different from Saint Lucians and fellow Caribbean people, needing and wanting the same things, each and all expecting the best representation levels from every administration.
Voters on all sides have shown they will elect parties of their choice — and vote against the same parties too.
And just like Saint Lucians have learned to distinguish between propaganda and reality, Taiwanese too have learned and shown, over time, how to remain calm no matter how loud the voluminous warmongering propaganda across the Strait.
Saint Lucia respects the choice of Taiwanese voters irrespective of the elected officials’ attitude to Beijing, just as they would expect governments in Taipei to respect not only the electorate’s choices, but also the partnership choices of all parties.
Saint Lucia (and Taiwan’s other four Caribbean allies Belize, Haiti, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) should therefore, in these times, do as much as possible not to fan the flames of conflict and concentrate more on building better ties beyond expectations of usual annual support limited to diplomacy and financial support.
Assistance (financial, economic or humanitarian) should not be conditional on taking sides, but on bilateral negotiations and through mechanisms that will assure and ensure transparency and accountability to parliaments and taxpayers on both and all sides.
Saint Lucia’s experiences have taught that instead of opposition political parties rushing to offer sympathies to allies before governments in times of loss, they can start learning to identify long-term projects that will not be subject to unilateral termination.
I can go on and on…
The bottom line is that there’s always room for improvement in all types of relationships and after 38 years of ties with Taiwan — conditioned by constantly-changing global political, social, economic and other shifts like never before and worsened by COVID – the time for review has been forced on all sides.
The COVID reality affects the entire world and China’s and Taiwan’s allies should not be expected or required to request humanitarian assistance (whether in the wake of hurricanes, earthquakes or COVID), as Taipei and Beijing have the means to provide vaccines and equipment, respectively, to handle the numbers required to meaningfully assist the entire Caribbean region’s battle against the pandemic.
Together (even without joining hands or marching alongside each other) in this virtual age of what Taiwan’s leader calls ‘The Internet of Things’, it’s possible for things to happen through and by the Internet that never did before.
It also means those engaged in building and improving ties between peoples need to look beyond even distant horizons, to seek and find new mechanisms to enhance global cooperation between nations and states, continents and islands, people and places everywhere.
As the new SLP-led administration enters the final fortnight before its first 100 Days in Office, PM Pierre’s indication that Saint Lucia will pitch with Small Island Developing States (SIDS) while seeking new and/or redefined non-aligned relationships between North and South has earned him deserving support at regionally and internationally.
It’s now for him to continue steering the ship of state through the current rough but navigable waters in ways that will not only show but also make a difference to saint Lucians and our Taiwanese friends. (end)