Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Taiwan will not renew ties with Gambia

President Ma Ying-jeou with the Gambian dictator
Rumors are rife that the Gambia is considering sending a delegation to Taiwan soon to discuss with the Ma Ying-jeou-led government about the possibility of re-establishment diplomatic ties.

Gambia abruptly and ungraciously severed ties with Taiwan on 15th November 2013 that took everyone, including Taipei, by complete surprise.

The decision to sever ties was the personal decision of Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator, a fact that was not lost in the eyes of the Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister who received the news with "shock and regret".  He also concluded that he thinks "it was Jammeh's personal decision".

Taipei's Ambassador to The Gambia was blindsided by Jammeh as well, and so was his Gambian counter-part in Taipei, making the separation very awkward at best.  Jammeh's own Foreign Minister was unaware and so were the Cabinet and the National Assembly.

It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that the Gambian people were also in the dark until it was announced on national television only to be told that the "decision was final and irreversible" and that it was all done in "line with Gambia's strategic interests."

The unceremonious manner Jammeh conducted himself seems to rule out the possibility of reestablishment of diplomatic relations.  The national pride of Taiwan was wounded by an ungrateful African leader who have personally benefited, in the relationship as much as, if not more than, the ordinary citizens of one of poorest countries in the world.  To President Ma Ying-jeou, it was a diplomatic slap in the face from one he thought was a friend.

Even if the Taiwanese president was to overlook the embarrassment he had to endure resulting from the breakup and a bruised national pride, it may not be in the national interest of Taiwan to even attempt to accommodate a dialogue with Jammeh with looming presidential elections in Taiwan in 2016, and all its implications.

Even if Ma Ying-jeou's party were to be returned to the presidency - a resurgent opposition is making it increasingly unlikely - resumption of diplomatic relations between Taipei and Banjul will not be under the same arrangements as previously, and Jammeh wouldn't like any arrangement that is rigid and transparent.

One of the biggest obstacles Jammeh faces and which his handlers failed to see along the road was the cross straits understanding between Taipei and Beijing that prohibits them from poaching each others diplomatic allies.  This understanding may have contributed to a significant degree to the lack of interest shown by Beijing which has led Jammeh to try to court Taipei.

The incident that may have started the downward spiral of the relationship was Jammeh's incessant demand for cash which Taipei tried to stop with the denial of "a huge sum" which some have put in the range of between $ 10 - $ 20 million.  When a senior official of the Foreign Ministry was quoted confirming that indeed the Gambian leader did make such a request and it was turned down, Jammeh went on national television threatening to expose high level corruption at the Taipei end of the relationship.

The Gambian leader came out of the breakup looking more like someone whose primary interest is himself and not the Gambian people. Greed and personal self-interest are what Taiwan finally saw in an idiosyncratic African leader, as he was aptly described by a senior Foreign Ministry official.   Jammeh came out of the breakup looking as a very unreliable diplomatic partner who is ready to stab his friends in the back when they least expect it.

The timing of any form of diplomatic rapprochement must take account of the presidential elections in Taiwan which may result in the ushering in of a new president. In fact, it is because of this likely scenario that China is ratcheting up the rhetoric in anticipation of making political, diplomatic and trade gains in subsequent cross strait talks with Taipei.

When we made inquiries about the rumor that Jammeh is planning to visit Taiwan to discuss with authorities the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic relationship, a highly placed source in Taiwan emailed us and we quote "I don't think either Taiwan or PRC (People's Republic of China) want to play diplomatic games with Yahya Jammeh anymore". unquote.

On the other hand, China is in no rush because it's presently in a lose-lose situation; the understanding that bars Beijing and Taipei from poaching each other's diplomatic partners is still operational and The Gambia has no known natural/mineral wealth in an significant amount that is worth the risk to China to breach the understanding.

The dust must settle first after the elections before Taiwan and China can see their way clear of their next move. What is certain is that the Taiwan gravy train that Jammeh had grown accustomed to riding in from 1995 - 2003 has been mothballed.