Taiwan Steps Up Push to Retain Foreign Allies
Meetings involving two African nations, three Latin American countries and two allies in the South Pacific will focus on strengthening diplomatic relationships as more countries switch allegiance to China.
The number of countries with diplomatic ties with Taiwan has dropped to 24 from 30 since 2000.
"Diplomatic pressure on Taiwan is going to increase," said Emile Sheng, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei.
"A lot of these diplomatic relations are built on monetary favors, and China is getting more resources on its side. Taiwan is facing a huge challenge with decreasing political and economic influence."
Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province run by a rival government and asks its more than 100 diplomatic allies to sign agreements recognizing Taiwan only as a part of China.
If Taiwan loses too many allies, analysts say, it will also lose chances to join international agencies.
The latest official visits, which the government calls routine diplomatic work, come after the oil-producing African nation of Chad severed ties with Taiwan this month.
Taiwan officials worry that China will suggest diplomatic relations if its government-owned Chinese Petroleum Corp. gets the go-aheads it wants from three Taiwan allies -- Guatemala, Paraguay and Sao Tome and Principe -- to explore for oil or gas, said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Michel Lu. "This is their strategy with oil for sure," Lu said. "Of course we know they're doing this."
This week, the Malawi minister of energy, mining and natural resources is meeting counterparts in the Taiwan government. The communications, news and technology minister from Gambia was in Taiwan last week for research and travel.
Foreign Minister James Huang began a visit to Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama from Sunday, and on Monday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang met visiting Solomon Islands Premier Manaseh Sogavare.
President Chen Shui-bian plans to visit the South Pacific nations of Nauru and Palau next month.
Rival diplomacy has destabilized some South-Pacific nations such as Solomon Islands where Parliament elected Sogavare in May to replace Snyder Rinci, whose election sparked rioting after rumors that aid money from Taiwan was used to help elect him.
Taiwan should focus on Africa, where allegiances are unstable, said Hsu Yung-ming, assistant research fellow with Academia Sinica in Taipei. He said Central American allies are urged by the United States to stick with Taiwan.
Other analysts say Taiwan should rely less on maintaining ties with third-world allies and instead build on informal relations with powerful developed nations or make a name in the world by giving more development aid or health research funds.