China's billions fail to sway Taiwan's last 2 allies in Africa

JOHANNESBURG • Taiwan's last two African allies have no plans to switch allegiances and break ties with Taipei, as Beijing tries to woo the self-ruled island's diplomatic partners.

Burkina Faso will not sever relations with Taiwan despite people and companies with links to China offering funding in return for recognition of the "one China" principle, according to Foreign Minister Alpha Barry. Swaziland said its relationship with Taiwan is based on mutual interests, not money.

"We get outrageous proposals telling us, 'if you sign with Beijing we'll offer you US$50 billion (S$71 billion) or even more,''' Mr Barry said in an interview in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, this month.

"Taiwan is our friend and our partner. We're happy and we see no reason to reconsider the relationship."

Competition between China and Taiwan for diplomatic allies has intensified since President Tsai Ing-wen became the island's president last year. She has refused to explicitly endorse the "one China" policy, an acknowledgment that the two are part of the same China even if they disagree on what that means.

"Our relations are concrete," Ms Eleanor Wang, a spokesman at Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said when asked about the island's ties with Burkina Faso and Swaziland. "All cooperation projects are being processed as planned."

Last month the tiny island nation of Sao Tome and Principe split with Taiwan because it was facing dwindling support from its traditional partners, mainly oil-producing nations hit by the slump in the crude price. Taiwan said Sao Tome had asked for more than US$100 million to maintain relations, and called the move that cut to 21 the number of its diplomatic partners "reckless and unfriendly".

Sao Tome and Principe Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada denied asking for money, but said the decision to break with Taiwan was necessary to improve the lives of the 200,000 inhabitants of the West African archipelago.

China is sending medical aid next month and a Chinese company has already expressed interest in building a deep water port, according to the Macau Daily Times.

Burkina Faso resumed relations with Taiwan in 1994 following a 21-year hiatus, while ties between Swaziland and Taiwan date to 1968, making Swaziland the African partner with the longest history.

"It'd be hard to say how long these two countries can stick with Taipei, given that the entire African continent is turning towards China's economic orbit," said Professor Zhang Linzheng, professor of political science at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

"The Tsai Ing-wen government would feel the difficulties to prop them up."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'China's billions fail to sway Taiwan's last 2 allies in Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe