Taiwan Loses another Diplomatic Ally
Dominican Republic Says Adios
The Dominican Republic announced on April 30 that it was recognizing the People’s Republic of China and severing 77 years of formal diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan). Have the dominoes started to fall?
Dominican Republic Says AdiosBy Yung-ching Chang
It was another setback for Taiwan in the Caribbean and Latin America and came barely 10 months after Panama shifted its allegiance to Beijing following more than 100 years of formal relations with the Republic of China.
While President Tsai Ing-wen has stressed that stable relations with China were very important to regional peace, Beijing has continued to put pressure on her administration, including by poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
“The government of the Republic of China deeply regrets that the government of the Dominican Republic has succumbed to the Beijing authorities' dollar diplomacy, and decided to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China,” the Presidential Office said in a statement on May 1 in Taipei shortly after the Dominican Republic’s announcement.
The statement noted that Taiwan has long shared its development experience with the Dominican Republic, helping improve the people’s quality of life and well-being and turning the Caribbean country into a net rice exporter from a net rice importer. Taiwan also helped it establish a police administration security reporting system.
But, “although willing and able to assist its allies, Taiwan is opposed to dollar diplomacy,” the statement said.
“We feel that the world is moving toward reconciliation and dialogue. The international community is devoted to peace and stability in every region, including the Korean Peninsula, and enhancing human well-being worldwide.
“China's government, however, is moving in the opposite direction, and continues to escalate regional military pressure and manipulate the so-called ‘one China principle,’ creating regional and cross-strait tension,” the statement said.
“The Beijing authorities' actions have thus unilaterally undermined the status quo of cross-strait peace. This is not the behavior of a responsible member of the international community, and this kind of wrong-headed conduct should cease immediately.”
The government stressed that it “will never bow to Beijing’s pressure” and vowed to uphold the nation’s interests and “defend the sovereignty and dignity of the Republic of China.”
Ending 77 Years of Formal Relations
On the Dominican side, Flavio Dario Espinal, legal consultant to the Dominican presidential office, said the change was based on the “needs, potential and future prospects” of the Dominican Republic, according to the Associated Press.
“History and socioeconomic reality force us now to change direction,” he said.
Espinal noted that even if the Dominican Republic had not established formal relations with China, bilateral trade “has grown year after year to the point that today China is the second biggest supplier of our imports,” the AP reported.
China’s trade representative in Santo Domingo, Fu Xinrong, said last year that the Dominican Republic was China’s second biggest trading partner in the Caribbean, with bilateral trade of US$1.7 billion. Of that, US$1.4 billion were Chinese exports to the Caribbean Country.
Fu Xinrong also said that China invested US$200 million to design and build 10,000 low-income housing units.
As for trade between Taiwan and the Dominican Republic, bilateral trade in 2017 totaled US$197.43 million, with exports from Taiwan accounting for US$124.13 million and imports into Taiwan totaling US$73.30 million, both up by double digits from the previous year, but still far below Dominican trade with Beijing.
After Taiwan saw formal relations with Panama come to an end last year, then Foreign Minister David Lee visited the Dominican Republic in July 2017, hoping to consolidate relations, and he proposed a new cooperation initiative.
According to AP, even though Santo Domingo had received millions, and even tens of millions of U.S. dollars in aid from Taiwan, the country’s defense minister, Ruben Dario Paulino Sem, negotiated another US$35 million (about NT$1.06 billion) in military aid from Taiwan during a trip to Taiwan in October 2017.
Aside from donating two UH-1H helicopters and 90 Humvees, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense also agreed to provide 100 backup generators to the Dominican military.
Yet that was still not enough to overcome the commercial and political relations Santo Domingo had built up with Beijing since the mid-2000s.
Santo Domingo informed Taiwan that it was cutting ties just hours before it announced its move. According to AP, Espinal said the government thanked the Taiwanese for “the cooperation that we shared for years,” which paved the way for “the development of programs of great importance for our country.”
On the morning of May 1, the Dominican Republic and China signed a joint communique in Beijing formalizing the new reality.
The communique said the countries decided to recognize each other and establish diplomatic relations from the date the communique was signed “in keeping with the interests and desire of the two peoples.”
“The Government of the Dominican Republic recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory. Hence the Government of the Dominican Republic severs ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan as of this day,” the communique read.
Is the Vatican Next?
The Dominican Republic’s defection left Taiwan with 19 diplomatic allies, and many have been wondering if the Vatican, Taiwan’s only formal ally in Europe, could be next after rumors of a rapprochement between the Vatican and China.
In February 2018, the Vatican and Beijing authorities seemed to be nearing an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China – seen as the main sticking point between the two sides in deepening relations because both the Vatican and Beijing want to have final say over the designation of bishops in China.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in late March, however, that “there is no imminent signature” of such an agreement, indicating that there were still serious hurdles to overcome.
But if the Vatican and China do eventually finalize such a deal, could the two sides then agree on establishing formal diplomatic ties? With Taiwan-Vatican ties stepping to the fore, could the Holy See choose to abandon its formal alliance with Taiwan?
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said optimistically that there was not much chance of a major shift in relations between the Vatican and China because the situation is so complicated.
As China specialist Shannon Tiezzi wrote in an article in the Diplomat in February, the Holy See “would have to seriously consider the negative optics of recognizing Beijing over Taipei at a time when China is cracking down on Christians while Taiwan has just elected its first Catholic vice president.”
Still, the number of Christians in China is rapidly growing, with some estimates at nearly 100 million. But the Catholic Church’s growth has lagged behind in China, with considerably fewer adherents than Protestantism, something the Vatican might want to address.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Yi-zheng Lian, a commentator on Hong Kong and Asian affairs, worried that the temptation of cutting a deal with China will be too great for the Holy See.
“No one, it seems, can resist the lure of the great market of China, for deodorants, cars — or congregants. Not even the Vatican,” Lian wrote.
About the Dominican Republic
- Language: Spanish
- Capital: Santo Domingo
- Area: 48,442 square kilometers
- Location: Caribbean Sea
- Population: 10.48 million (September 2015)
- Religion: Catholicism
- Taiwan’s exports to DR: US$124.13 million (2017)
- Taiwan’s imports from DR: US$73.30 million (2017)
Translated by Luke Sabatier.