Why It Matters

China flexes its muscles in Africa

Kenya's shock deportation of several dozen Taiwanese to China, against stiff protests from Taipei, has resulted in the all-too-predictable television confessions by some of the abductees and written expressions of remorse by many others.

It follows the busting of a phone and Internet scamming operation in which a bunch of Taiwanese and mainlanders were allegedly involved in cheating people in nine Chinese provinces.

Although let off by the Kenyan courts, which also ordered there be no forced deportations, Nairobi seems to have acquiesced to Beijing's demands.

China has praised the African nation, saying: "The one-China policy is an important precondition for bilateral relations with China and other countries. We commend Kenya for implementing this policy."

Taiwan, for its part, called it an "extrajudicial abduction" and a "gross violation of human rights".

The Chinese move underscores the nation's growing clout around the world and its ability to bend other nations to its will, especially in Africa, a key recipient of its direct investment in extractive industries and infrastructure.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's first official overseas trip was to Beijing, just as Mr Xi Jinping was settling into office there. A year ago, when Mr Xi visited Africa, he received impressive welcomes everywhere. Just recently, Gambia, another African state, switched out its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to formally support Beijing.

More importantly, it is a warning aimed at incoming Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to not rock cross-Taiwan Strait ties. The DPP leans towards formal independence for Taiwan even as Ms Tsai, who takes office on May 20, has not stood for this. Taiwan also has been stirring on its own claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Clearly, the US is not the only nation willing and capable of effecting "renditions" these days.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'China flexes its muscles in Africa'. Print Edition | Subscribe