Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why would Beijing bother

The unfolding drama following the break-up of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and The Gambia is unraveling the inner workings of the personal diplomacy conducted by the Gambian leader which should serve as notice to Beijing.

As the next diplomatic destination of the Gambian dictator, the People's Republic of China is certainly keenly following revelations concerning the manner in which Jammeh conducts foreign policy.  It is a style that is personal with Gambia's national interest taking a back seat.  Gambians have learned in two short weeks as events continue to unfold that Jammeh's relations with Taiwan was more for his personal enrichment than for the mutual benefits of the two countries.  The demands for personal favors from Taiwan at the expense of Gambia's national interest  was not only unprecedented but disgraceful.  Jammeh makes Gambians look cheap and self-centered, and the story only gets worse as Taiwanese politicians start asking questions.

Initially, it was thought Jammeh owed Taiwan $ 10 million.  Now the figure is placed at $ 20 million by Legislator Tsai Huang-liang of the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan who estimated that over the years, the total outstanding loans owed Taiwan by its former allies amounted to roughly half a billion dollars. Legislator Tsai is insisting that the government should go after the defaulters to recover the outstanding amounts to avoid sending the wrong message that diplomatic allies can contract loans and then walk off the relationship without paying.

Following the diplomatic rupture, former Ambassador Shih was dispatched to Banjul to see if he could talk Jammeh into reconsidering his decision to sever relations.  He refused to meet the Shih delegation but delegated his Vice President who informs the delegation that the decision was final because when Jammeh's demands for a $ 10 million in a one-time payment, he expected Taiwan to comply because "we are brothers."  In turning down the $ 10 million demand, the Vice President intimated to the delegation that Jammeh deducted from the refusal that "Taiwan was no longer in need of Gambia's support."  In short, the personal enrichment of Jammeh is the quid pro quo for Gambia's diplomatic relations and support in international fora.

Jammeh's personal style of conducting foreign policy will not fit well with the Chinese foreign aid model. There will be more demands for accountability than what we have seen in the Taiwanese model.  The Chinese will not rush into establishing diplomatic relations with The Gambia, especially as embarrassing demands of Jammeh on Taiwan continue to be unearth by Taiwan authorities and the local media.  The Chinese will move faster only if Jammeh, the snake oil salesman he is, can sell the same story he's sold Gambians for over a decade that The Gambia is floating on crude oil.