Any doubt that the United States had reversed its position on Taiwan from Strategic Ambiguity to Open Support for those advocating separation was put to rest in the Caribbean earlier this week, when a joint US-led delegation of US and Taiwanese officials visited Saint Lucia.
The official reason was to visit a ‘smart school’ on the island that’s funded by Taiwan, but behind that smart bit of soft diplomacy was another defiant show of a clenched fist by Washington intended to annoy Beijing.
Much like the intended slap-in-the-face visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that became the proverbial final straw that broke China’s back and repeated two weeks later by a four-member Congressional delegation, this week’s Caribbean visit by top Taiwanese and US officials further confirmed that Washington has stepped-up what Beijing regards as provocative actions that unmask all previous pretense to not support Taiwan’s separation from China – a red line for the People’s Republic of China (ROC) since 1949.
A press release from the Taiwan embassy in Saint Lucia on August 16 reported that “a delegation from the US Embassy in Barbados, led by Ambassador Linda Taglialatela” and including “delegations from Taiwan embassies” in Saint Kitts and Nevis (led by Ambassador Michael Lin) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (led by Ambassador Peter Lan), “toured a smart classroom” funded by Taiwan, “to see first-hand how Saint Lucian teachers and students benefit from state-of-the-art learning technology.”
The joint USAID and Taiwan team also visited a Taiwanese-assisted demonstration farm on the island, “to view the achievement of hoop greenhouse, drip irrigation system and vegetables and fruits that demonstrate the agricultural cooperation between Taiwan and Saint Lucia to build up climate resilience.”
According to the Taiwan Embassy: “Taiwan pledged to continue working with Saint Lucia, U.S. and like-minded countries to explore further cooperation in the field of agriculture, education and more in Saint Lucia and the region.”
Neither the visit, nor its timing, were coincidental, as Taiwan is calling on all its remaining 14 allies to support Taipei and Washington in the current post-Pelosi stand-off that’s brought the US and China just one miscalculation closer to a possible nuclear war.
Taiwan has five Caribbean Community supporters (Belize, Haiti, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent & The Grenadines) which, with Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay represent over-half of Taiwan’s remaining support among United Nations Member-states, vis-à-vis 188 recognizing the PRC as the only ‘One China’ since 1971.
Interestingly, Washington says it doesn’t support Independence for Taiwan, but the Trump and Biden administrations had been openly doing everything to encourage the separatist leadership of the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP).
Also interesting is that all the major nations criticizing or lining-up against China over Taiwan also have diplomatic ties with the PRC, based on the One China policy that treats Taiwan as a breakaway province the mainland allows to rule itself once its politicians did not try to sever what the mainland considers its historic umbilical cord to the island.
Caribbean leaders, no doubt aware of where China stands on Taiwan, have traditionally remained loyal to whichever side they support.
Having lost seven of the 21 allies the DPP inherited since Madam Tsai Ing-wen was elected as the island’s home-rule president in 2016, Taipei’s foreign policy has been hot and heavy, fast-and-furious across the region.
During the Pelosi visit, St. Vincent & The Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves continued with a scheduled visit to the island – his 12th to date and 11th as PM; and Saint Lucia’s PM Philip J. Pierre offered online support for “self-determination for Taiwan”.
On the other hand, Barbados’ Ministry of External Affairs last week issued a statement on the China-Taiwan-US conundrum, saying Bridgetown – which recognizes the PRC – won’t engage in interference in China’s internal affairs.
Generally, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments, still reeling from the blistering and bruising externally generated divisions over the war in Ukraine, have notably tended to refrain from helping fuel a fire that can consume the world.
Indeed, regional diplomacy has matured sufficiently after sixty years of independence for Caribbean leaders to be unwilling to continue to appear like or be described as pawns in a global geopolitical chess game.
The nine CARICOM member-states supporting China and the five with Taiwan are unlikely to be willing to be seen as Caribbean friends willing to help strangers burn a neighbor’s home.
Despite what some describe as “plausible denials”, Caribbean governments are being solicited and/or urged, if not expected, to take sides.
But it’s a reflection of their unwillingness to back any side in a winnable war that places humankind’s future at great risk of nuclear annihilation.
Ditto Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay – and all Taiwan’s remaining six allies outside this region: e-Swati (formerly Swaziland), the Holy See (Vatican), the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.
The big fuss kicked-up by Washington over Taiwan is more than just a storm-in-a-teacup revved-up to hurricane standard by the USA in the waters around Taiwan, with distant backing from the UK and hawkish neighboring nations Washington hopes to engage in a US-led and NATO-backed multinational military response.
Unlike those who’ve turned the deliberately confusing policy of Strategic Ambiguity on its head, the leaders of the nine CARICOM nations backing China and the five recognizing Taiwan have maintained a loud tactical silence that’s both strategic and unambiguous.
They are saying, beyond words, that they really do not want to be lulled-back into the age of ‘Ping-Pong’ or ‘Dollar Diplomacy’ when ties were traded with the highest bidder — a period when the Caribbean region provided good headlines for all the bad reasons.
The leaders are very-much aware of the African proverb ‘When elephants fight, the grass suffers…’ and in this case they do not want to see and won’t encourage the elephants to fight.
But will the elephants listen to their grassroots wisdom?
Only time will tell…