The failure of Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen to hold onto allies has prompted a RAND Corporation defense analyst, Derek Grossman, to advocate abandoning the fourteen small nations that still recognize the exiled Chinese government ruling Taiwan. Under President Tsai’s watch Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Gambia, Kiribati, Nicaragua, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Solomon Islands have all dropped diplomatic recognition in favor of the People’s Republic of China. Honduras appears ready to make the switch, further reducing the ROC claim to be a sovereign nation.
Grossman, who previously urged getting more nations to recognize the ROC, has now decided that China will win the dollar diplomacy game that has played out during Tsai’s tenure. Nicaragua dropped recognition after the ROC refused a $100,000,000 USD loan. After ousting the ROC diplomatic corps with two weeks notice, President Daniel Ortega ordered the ROC embassy seized and turned over to the PRC.
Grossman, who avoids using the ROC name, proposes a novel solution to the diplomatic problem. “Beijing’s successful poaching of Taiwan’s allies is harming the island’s morale and tarnishing its image as a sovereign nation. As counterintuitive as it may seem, Taiwan should further consider unilaterally shedding all remaining partners to strengthen its hand long-term against China.”
Citing ROC allies as “small and impoverished nations like Palau or St. Lucia that are of little geostrategic value” the defense analyst says: “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.”
“Taiwanese diplomats in Guatemala, Eswatini, the Marshall Islands, or elsewhere could more usefully be focused….Taiwan seeks to maintain its regional and international space, and yet only major and medium-size powers can help it accomplish these goals. So why not prioritize relationships with them?”
Grossman, who does not mention the strategic ambiguity known as Republic of China, does recognize the problem of sovereignty. “The Taiwanese government might still meet that basic threshold, but from the perspective of international law, sovereignty typically requires recognition by another sovereign state. Still, 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.”
“I do not raise the proposal to unilaterally have Taiwan shed diplomatic partners lightly….But the upside is very significant. It 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.”
Grossman has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency before joining the RAND Corporation. However, Grossman’s tenure in military spycraft seems to have left him clueless about the realities of Taiwan’s sovereignty problem. The Republic of China is an exiled Chinese government that lost a civil war and continues hero worship of dictator Chaing Kai-shek. As long as that political arrangement holds, the PRC will continue to make territorial demands on the island.
In Roger Lin v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared the people of Taiwan were stateless and caught in “political purgatory” of unresolved status. Formosa, as Taiwan is also known, was Japanese territory at the end of World War II. The San Francisco Peace Treaty which officially ended World War II with Japan, left Formosa’s international status unresolved with the ROC as a caretaker government installed by the United States, which does not recognize the ROC as a sovereign nation.
Perhaps nothing sheds more light on the fiction of the ROC as a sovereign nation than the dwindling list of small countries that recognize it. Countries like Belize, which recently put its flag on a postage stamp with that of the ROC, will have to make some quick changes if Grossman gets his way.
If President Tsai does decide to dump allies to allow the resources of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to concentrate on G7 nations, as Grossman urges, the dollar diplomacy will quickly end as the PRC will be the only game in town, leaving former ROC allies to fend for themselves.
The United States opposes Taiwan independence. However, many are beginning to see that an independent Taiwan, free of the Republic of China in-exile, is a way out of the quagmire. Another solution, infrequently discussed, is statehood in the United States of America. One thing is certain, the status quo, cherished by President Tsai, is slipping.