NO THANKS

One African country is absent from this week’s big shindig in Beijing

Getting something out of it.
Getting something out of it.
Image: EPA-EFE/David Chang
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Almost every African nation sent a representative to this week’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, eager for a slice of China’s new investment pledges, on top of of the $60 billion the Chinese government already committed to the continent last time around. One country stayed home.

That country is eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, an absolute monarchy which remains steadfastly committed to its alliance with Taiwan, even as other countries have in recent months switched sides to establish ties with Beijing at an increasing rate. Taiwan’s other remaining African ally, Burkina Faso, broke ties with Taipei in May.

It’s possible that eSwatini was not the only absentee—Chinese state media said that over 50 countries sent representatives to this week’s extravaganza, though Africanews reported that it was unclear who represented the Eritrean delegation. The Chinese embassy in Eritrea updated its website today (Sep. 4) with information (paywall) about the gathering but did not state whether Eritrea sent a representative. The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan in fact hosted its own summit with five African allies in 2007, which also included at the time the Gambia, Malawi, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Since president Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016, Beijing has stepped up its campaign to isolate Taiwan internationally by diplomatically and economically pressuring governments and companies to recognize it as part of China. Tsai’s party has traditionally espoused Taiwanese independence.

In explaining its decision to recognize Beijing instead of Taiwan, Burkina Faso—no doubt echoing the position of many of Taiwan’s former allies—said, “the evolution of the world and the socio-economic challenges of our country and region push us to reconsider our position.” Swaziland, however, reiterated recently that it was perfectly content with Taiwan’s commitment to the country—which, among other things, includes health-care facilities, an Airbus A340-300, a Buddhist school and orphanage, and a place for King Mswati III’s son at a Taipei university (as well as an honorary doctorate for the king himself).

In a recent interview with CNN, however, eSwatini’s acting prime minister said that it was possible to consider turning toward Beijing if “development purposes” called for it, though he said that the ultimate decision rests with the king. Beijing, for its part, seems happy to wait it out. Its special representative for African affairs said over the weekend that it would not pressure eSwatini to switch sides because “that day will come.”