Taiwan now has one diplomatic ally left in Africa

Losing allies.
Losing allies.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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For Taiwan, the list of its diplomatic allies in Africa has dwindled to all but one nation.

This week, Burkina Faso said it would cut its ties with the island nation, joining a growing list of countries cowering to increasing pressure from China to cut their ties with the island nation. Under its One-China policy, China refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes Taiwan, a self-governed island off its southeastern coast which Beijing considers an integral part of its territory.

This leaves eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) as the only African country with formal relations with Taiwan, along with 18 other allies around the world—mostly smaller and poorer nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

The Burkinabe foreign ministry justified its decision by saying “the evolution of the world and the socio-economic challenges of our country and region push us to reconsider our position.” This is the second time Burkina Faso has cut ties with Taiwan: the last time it did so was in 1973, before resuming relations with Taipei in 1994.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen lashed out at China following the diplomatic fallout saying the country was using “dollar diplomacy” to lure away its supporters. Foreign minister Joseph Wu also tendered his resignation following the announcement. Taipei also said it would end its assistance to the West African nation, halt all bilateral cooperative projects, and close its embassy there.

Over the past decade, support for Taiwan has dwindled as billions of dollars in Chinese investment have flowed into the African continent. Sino-Africa relations have also soared, as China dishes out loans to African states, and provides investments in infrastructure, construction, energy, transportation, and more. As economic engagement has increased, China has also expanded its diplomatic and military footprint and provided thousands of scholarships to African students to study in China every year.

The breakup with Burkina Faso comes just a few weeks after the Dominican Republic cut ties with Taiwan following reports that China had offered loans and investments worth $3.1 billion. Last year, Nigeria ordered Taiwan’s trade embassy to move out of the capital Abuja after getting a $40 billion pledge from China. And in December 2016, São Tomé and Príncipe also bid Taipei goodbye after a two-decade diplomatic relationship. Observers say the Vatican might come next, as the Holy See and China explore ways of normalizing their ties.

President Tsai has so far remained steadfast, saying China’s pressure will only push Taiwan to get closer with its allies. But the diplomatic split might still undermine her leadership, especially given that it took place just a few weeks after she made her maiden trip to Africa in a bid to keep its now remaining African ally—eSwatini—on its side.