In Africa, China’s gain is Tai­wan’s loss

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - GE­OF­FREY YORK

Nige­ria, eye­ing in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, is lat­est coun­try to em­brace Bei­jing; Tai­wanese trade of­fice cut to ‘skele­ton staff’

It was a dra­matic les­son in China’s grow­ing fi­nan­cial mus­cle. As a Chi­nese of­fi­cial dan­gled the pos­si­ble re­ward of $40-bil­lion (U.S.) in des­per­ately needed in­vest­ments, Nige­ria this week hastily or­dered the shut­down of a trade of­fice by China’s ri­val, Tai­wan.

The re­sult is an­other diplo­matic blow to Tai­wan and an­other vic­tory for Bei­jing as it be­comes in­creas­ingly as­sertive on the world stage, from the South China Sea to the western coast of Africa.

The Chi­nese diplo­matic of­fen­sive has risen sharply since last year, when the in­de­pen­dence­minded Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party emerged vic­to­ri­ous in Tai­wan’s elec­tion. Since then, Bei­jing has lured two more African coun­tries away from Tai­wan’s em­brace, while also bat­tling to weaken Tai­wan’s links to in­di­vid­ual African politi­cians.

The cam­paign has left Tai­wan more iso­lated in the world, with only 21 coun­tries now rec­og­niz­ing its in­de­pen­dence. It has also sig­nalled to U.S. pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump that the Chi­nese govern­ment is will­ing to play hard­ball in any fight over trade or se­cu­rity is­sues.

In the 12 months since the Tai­wanese elec­tion, China has forged new links with two African na­tions – Gam­bia and the is­land na­tion of Sao Tome and Principe – that had pre­vi­ously rec­og­nized Tai­wan. This has left Tai­wan with just two African diplo­matic part­ners: Swazi­land and Burk­ina Faso.

Equally sig­nif­i­cant is China’s mount­ing in­flu­ence over Africa’s two big­gest economies, South Africa and Nige­ria. The gov­ern­ments of both coun­tries have moved to cut back Tai­wan’s links to their coun­tries in re­cent days.

When the mayor of South Africa’s ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal, Pre­to­ria, trav­elled to Tai­wan on an in­vest­ment mis­sion last month, Bei­jing protested fu­ri­ously – and South Africa’s rul­ing party launched a sim­i­larly fe­ro­cious at­tack on the mayor, Solly Msi­manga, who be­longs to an op­po­si­tion party.

The rul­ing party, the African Na­tional Congress, ag­gres­sively backed the Chi­nese po­si­tion on Tai­wan, ac­cus­ing Mr. Msi­manga of “trea­son” and “trans­gress­ing the con­sti­tu­tion” and even threat­en­ing to strip him of his diplo­matic pass­port.

Mr. Msi­manga shot back by ob­serv­ing that the ANC govern­ment has its own trade of­fice in Taipei. But the harsh at­tack on the mayor was a sign of China’s suc­cess in cul­ti­vat­ing sup­port from the ANC, which of­ten praises Bei­jing as a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic model for South Africa. The ANC has fo­cused much of its eco­nomic strat­egy on closer links to China as a source of in­vest­ment and trade.

China’s big­gest Africa vic­tory, how­ever, was its suc­cess in forc­ing the clos­ing of Tai­wan’s of­fice in Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, Abuja, this week.

With oil prices low, Nige­ria’s econ­omy has sunk into a re­ces- sion. Its govern­ment has promised to lift the coun­try out of re­ces­sion with a mas­sive pro­gram of spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture projects, but it has strug­gled to find fi­nanc­ing for the projects. And then China hinted that it might pro­vide up to $40-bil­lion in in­vest­ments in the Nige­rian projects.

Of­fi­cially, there was no quid pro quo. But the Nige­rian govern­ment was in dire need of for­eign fund­ing, and it was fully aware of Bei­jing’s de­mands. And so, when Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi ar­rived in Abuja this week, Nige­ria re­sponded with swift ac­tion against Tai­wan.

Nige­rian For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­of­frey Onyeama an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that he had or­dered Tai­wan to shut down its trade of­fice in Abuja and re­lo­cate it to La­gos, far to the south. The of­fice will be lim­ited to a “skele­ton staff,” he told the state news agency, NAN.

The move is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it de­prives Tai­wan of any of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, where they could lobby Nige­ria’s top of­fi­cials.

And by lim­it­ing Tai­wan to a “skele­ton staff,” Nige­ria is en­sur­ing that Tai­wan has a min­i­mal pres­ence in Africa’s most pop­u­lous coun­try. This would suit Bei­jing’s claim that Tai­wan is merely a rene­gade prov­ince.

Tai­wan im­me­di­ately protested the Nige­rian move. “The for­eign min­istry se­ri­ously ob­jects and con­demns the un­rea­son­able ac­tions by the Nige­rian govern­ment,” a state­ment said.

But the moves were just one of many re­cent signs that China won’t back down from a scrap with Mr. Trump, who an­gered Bei­jing by tak­ing a phone call from Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent last month.

In re­cent weeks, China has sent a nu­clear-armed bomber over a dis­puted bound­ary in the South China Sea, sent an air­craft car­rier through the Tai­wan Strait, and con­tin­ued its buildup on dis­puted is­lands and atolls in the South China Sea.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.