Taiwan's trade office ordered out of Nigerian capital

A Nigerian flag is seen outside Nigeria Trade Office, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 12, 2017.
A Nigerian flag is seen outside Nigeria Trade Office, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Snub seen as a sign that Beijing is trying to choke off Taipei's diplomatic and trade links

In yet another diplomatic setback for Taiwan, Nigeria has ordered the island to shut down its trade office in its capital Abuja and move to the port city of Lagos.

Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama announced it on Wednesday after meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who is on a five-nation visit to Africa, said China's Xinhua news agency.

In a joint press conference with Mr Wang, Mr Onyeama was quoted as saying by Xinhua: "Taiwan will stop enjoying any privileges because it is not a country that is recognised under international law and under the position we have taken internationally we recognise the People's Republic of China, the 'one China' policy."

Taiwan has no diplomatic ties with Nigeria, but has an office for handling business affairs in Abuja. Nigeria also banned its government officials from any official contact with their Taiwanese counterparts.

In response, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry noted that Taiwan and Nigeria do not have diplomatic relations and it was misleading for Nigeria to declare that it was ending diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Taiwan "strongly protests and condemns Nigeria's unreasonable behaviour", it said. But it also urged Nigeria to leave room for discussion and said Taiwan would send an envoy to deal with the issue.

INFLICTING MAXIMUM PAIN

In the past, Taiwan had to worry only about losing diplomatic allies. But now, all bets are off as China seems to also want to target all countries to cut off all links and inflict maximum pain on Taiwan.

DR ALEXANDER HUANG, a Tamkang University political analyst, warning that Taiwan should be worried about China's latest diplomatic offensive.

Yesterday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Nigeria made the "right political judgment", saying it will boost mutual trust between Nigeria and China.

The Nigerian snub, which comes amid frosty cross-strait ties, is seen by analysts as a sign that Beijing is trying to choke off Taiwan's diplomatic and trade links.

Just last month, West African island nation Sao Tome and Principe switched allegiance from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with only 21 diplomatic allies. The island also saw the number of Chinese mainland visitors fall by 14.4 per cent last year - the first drop in eight years.

Beijing has been using its economic and military might to put pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. She has not acknowledged the "one China" principle since taking office last May, leading Beijing to cut off official communications with Taiwan.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland eventually.

An unprecedented phone call last month between Ms Tsai and US President-elect Donald Trump had further angered Beijing.

Tamkang University political analyst Alexander Huang said Taiwan should be worried about China's latest diplomatic offensive, which is aimed at isolating the island.

"In the past, Taiwan had to worry only about losing diplomatic allies. But now, all bets are off as China seems to also want to target all countries to cut off all links and inflict maximum pain on Taiwan," said Dr Huang.

The latest setback comes as Ms Tsai wraps up a Central America tour aimed at shoring up diplomatic ties. Yesterday, Taiwan Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang said China's actions "will only antagonise the Taiwanese people". He said: "The existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan's formal name) is itself an indisputable fact. Applying pressure and intimidation will not change that fact."

Taiwanese Premier Lin Chuan told the foreign press corps at a tea reception yesterday that China's tactics will "do more harm than good" to cross-strait relations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan's trade office ordered out of Nigerian capital'. Print Edition | Subscribe