Letters & Opinion

The Bottom Line! Taiwan can’t be better-off alone!

By Earl Bousquet

On Christmas Eve I read an article forwarded to me entitled Taiwan would be better off alone!

It was by Derek Grossman, described as “a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation” who “formerly served as an intelligence advisor at the Pentagon.”

It originally appeared on Nikkei Asia on December 23, 2021 and I found it simply intriguing.

Given the holiday feeling sweeping the world when the writer penned the article (two days before Christmas Day), the headline partly inferred the article might be a comical comment or a humorous interpretation of where Grossman sees Taiwan heading in 2022 — and beyond.

But, coming on the heels of Nicaragua’s recent decision to break ties with Taiwan, the article did tickle my fancy…

Arguing that “Beijing’s successful poaching of Taiwan’s allies is harming the island’s morale and tarnishing its image as a sovereign nation…” Grossman advised that Taiwan should indeed do likewise.

“As counterintuitive as it may seem,” he proposed, “Taiwan should further consider unilaterally shedding all remaining partners to strengthen its hand long-term against China.”

According to him, “The uncomfortable truth about Taiwan’s remaining allies — except for the Vatican, its only partner left in Europe — is that they are with small and impoverished nations, like Palau or St. Lucia, that are of little geostrategic value.”

And he noted, “…while Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has disavowed dollar diplomacy, that is exactly what continues to happen when Taipei competes with Beijing to keep countries in its camp.”

The writer recalled that since Madam Tsai became the island’s elected leader in 2016, Taiwan has lost eight partners: Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Gambia, Kiribati, Nicaragua, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe and the Solomon Islands.

Back-tracking on an earlier position, Grossman said: “Although I have previously argued that Taiwan could regain allies that is not likely in the years to come…”

He noted too “reports that Honduras might be next” to break ties with Taipei – as well as Haiti, Tuvalu and The Vatican.

Yet, despite these telling truths, Grossman still suggests that “By unilaterally turning down all official diplomatic relationships, Taiwan would shore-up precious time and resources to further its diversification of economic relationships away from China to reduce Beijing’s influence over the island.”

He further suggested that Taipei “could build upon the momentum achieved” by developing “unofficial partnerships with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines, Vietnam and others.”

Grossman adds to his confusing prescription cocktail saying, “Taiwan would also avoid embarrassments that are sure to arrive as Beijing continues to leverage its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to entice Taipei’s allies.”

Then he proceeds to underline yet another uncomfortable truth, acknowledging that “Unfortunately, the BRI is particularly well-suited to the needs of developing nations.”

The writer further argues that “Relinquishing diplomatic partners could allow Taiwan to convert its Ministry of Foreign Affairs into a center for Track 1.5 or Track 2.0 diplomacy to focus on cooperation with powers of major consequence.”

The “powers of major consequence” he identified as the USA, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Canada, UK, France and Germany, “that sympathize with Taiwan’s plight.”

By his measure, “In years to come, Taiwan could convince major powers to lobby more aggressively on its behalf at venues in which it is already barred because of China, including the World Health Assembly and the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

Staring realism in the face, Grossman acknowledges that “An obvious problem with this suggested approach is that Beijing will appear to have won the diplomatic competition.”

“Still,” he insists, “it is hard to imagine the island’s predicament would worsen, given that it is already locked out of nearly every significant government-to-government interaction.”

He says Beijing “would applaud such a move” — and acknowledges too, that “doing so would contradict American and Taiwanese policy goals to maintain international breathing room in the face of a more-assertive China.”

But, he claims that “would free Taipei from an unwinnable competition and refocus attention on what really matters: reducing China’s coercive power by strengthening relationships with powers that can truly help.”

I read the article after boarding my flight at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) and there’s no escaping that what Grossman is advocating is a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Taiwan, which he also knows is a red line for China that will only lead to Beijing taking any actions it may deem necessary to preserve the status quo.

Such a move could likely ignite the costly war that China and the US have avoided since 1971 (when the United Nations recognised China).

But then, that shouldn’t be surprising, coming from “a senior defense analyst” who “formerly served as an intelligence advisor at the Pentagon.”

What the article again underlines, is that no matter how those who naturally oppose China may know their suggestions and recommendations will not help Taiwan in any way, they will still offer impossible remedies they can always easily backpaddle, back-pedal, or simply rollback-on, by applying the equally unfathomable policy of “Plausible Deniability” (whatever that means…)

The plain fact is that Taiwan is already nearer than ever to standing alone, its number of formal friends vanishing at an unprecedented rate.

Never mind all their promising platitudes, all the countries mentioned by Grossman as being willing to stand by and with Taiwan also happen to have strong diplomatic ties with Beijing that they will also do everything to maintain – including dumping Taiwan at the last minute, if needs be.

Why?

Because, at the end of the day and in the long run, ties with China are definitely more important to each and all than ties with Taipei.

They will say all they can, as loud as possible, within allowable limits, to be able to make use of Taiwan’s geostrategic importance to the continuing ideological war against Beijing.

But if and when push really comes to shove, all will eventually choose Beijing over Taipei.

And that’s The Bottom Line!

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