Taiwan mourns loss of the little friend stolen by big brother

Aid is China's weapon to win the battle for influence and diplomatic recognition in the Caribbean basin

The Caribbean basin has become the frontline in lingering Cold War battles between two powerful countries half a globe away: China, and, well, China.

The larger of these countries, whose capital is Peking, is locked in a struggle for diplomatic recognition with its island neighbour, which thinks of itself as the Republic of China, but which most of the rest of the world knows as Taiwan. It is an often-sordid war of bribes, threats, diplomatic pressure and high-level visits as China seeks to oust Taiwan from its remaining diplomatic strongholds while the latter fights back with hard cash.

The island of St Lucia in the Lesser Antilles was the latest battlesite. Its new Labour government last week switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, saying recognition of the former was "no longer tenable under international law". But the true reason had much more to do with money.

China offered the island - population 150,000 - $1m (pounds 633,000) in immediate aid in the form of badly-needed school textbooks on an island where at least 30 per cent of people live below the poverty line. China and St Lucia also signed an economic co-operation agreement under which Peking will finance a new national stadium, a cultural centre, a four-lane highway and a free trade zone.

Explaining his government's decision to switch allegiance, the Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, whose Labour Party ousted he long-ruling United Workers Party in June, said the role of Hong Kong was a factor. "Our commercial sector is now seeking new trading opportunities and new frontiers. Hong Kong is now the gateway to mainland China, with the vast trade possibilities which lie there. Taiwan can no longer provide the link with Hong Kong," he said.

In May, the Bahamas ousted Taiwan in favour of China after a Chinese- connected Hong Kong company signed a $114m joint venture agreement for a container port project in Freeport.

But on the western rim of the Caribbean basin, in Panama and Nicaragua, Taiwan is faring better. Taiwanese President Lee Teng-Hui is in Panama this week, heading a 500-member delegation to a "Canal Congress" aimed by Panama at showing the world it can administer the canal when the United States hands over control at the end of 1999.

As a result, Peking boycotted the Congress - also financed by Taiwan. Panama now fears China, the canal's third biggest user in numbers of ships, may boycott the canal itself.

To cover their bets, some 50 Taiwanese investors are in Nicaragua this week looking into financing a project to rival the Panama Canal. The plan is to build an "interoceanic corridor," linking lakes, railways and roads between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Such a corridor could save container shippers several days, compared with sailing farther south to Panama, according to the project's supporters.

With St Lucia gone from the fold, Taiwan now has diplomatic relations with only about 30 countries, compared with about 160 for Peking. South Africa has said it is switching to China at the end of this year. Half of those who still recognise Taiwan are in the Caribbean or Central America but several of these are re-appraising the situation, particularly since the handover of Hong Kong to China.

In the Caribbean, Taiwan is left with Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti and Saint Christopher and Nevis. The African list, headed by Senegal, Liberia and Chad, is also something less than big-time. In Europe only the Holy See, which has problems with China's establishment of a rival Catholic church, recognises Taiwan.

Heading Taiwan's battle against diplomatic isolation is the International Co-operation and Development Fund established last year with more than $400m in the kitty. It doles out soft loans, project financing for small and medium sized companies and has Costa Rica - Taiwan's biggest diplomatic ally - as its leading recipient.

"Taiwan can only pay money to buy friendship," said Tim Ting, a leading political commentator. China, on the other hand, can offer its far bigger market, political power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and its assistance in supplying arms.

However, while Taiwan is losing its smallest friends to the highest bidder it is actually making discreet but more substantive diplomatic progress with the bigger nations. European countries, including Britain, which do not recognise Taiwan, have nevertheless upgraded the level of their semi-official diplomatic representation.

"It's a dilemma," said Leng Tse-kang of the Institute of International Relations, Taipei's main foreign policy think tank. "Do we increase numbers, or enhance the substantive relationships with countries which do not recognise Taiwan."

He thinks that the substantive relationships are more important, but the Taiwanese government is rather number obsessed.

It proved impossible to find a foreign ministry official who would discuss how St Lucia got away. Although the country is tiny, its very name seemed to send terror down the spines of officials who were most reluctant to say a thing about the loss of this little friend.

The sensitivity is understandable, coming from officials who regularly have to do battle just to be able to use their country's name at international gatherings and suffer the indignity of mass boycotts every time they show up anywhere, as President Lee Teng-Hui is finding this week in Panama.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution