Taiwan's Tab for 21 States Still Recognizing It as "China"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/15/2017 02:35:00 PM
Every country still recognizing Taiwan has its price--except perhaps for the Holy See.
With the possible exception of the Vatican which does not really need to be bought off--it's a comparatively affluent microstate with strong objections to communism, atheism, and PRC-arranged ordination of (fake) Catholic clergy--Taiwan has paid a price for it still being recognized as "China" by a few states. 21, to be exact. For a historical overview, the culmination of US efforts to bring the PRC in from the cold is best represented by it gaining a UN Security Council seat as "China" on October 25, 1971. Since that day, Taiwan has fought an uphill battle to maintain its recognition as the one, true China. After all, if the United Nations says it is, who are we to argue?

Donald Trump fielding a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen of the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party once again brought attention to the matter. Especially after Sao Tome was lost to the mainland very reccntly, Taiwan has been acting to shore up its claim to nationhood. That is, it's difficult to claim to be a nation when fewer and fewer nations recognize you as such:
Taiwan accused São Tomé of making “excessive” financial demands and “playing both sides of the Taiwan Strait while holding out for the highest bidder”. Mr Lee insists his government will no longer “engage in money diplomacy”. Ms Tsai is due to set off for a trip to four Central American allies next month to shore up ties.
In the past both sides competed to buy the support of developing countries, leading to a notorious incident in 2006 when Taiwan lost $30m to middlemen who claimed to be able to establish ties with Papua New Guinea. Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies have little money or power. The total population of all 21 countries is just 84m, from the African nation of Burkina Faso, with 19m, to the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, with 11,000, and the Vatican, with just 800. 
As per the wisdom of Cyndi Lauper, money changes everything:
Ambassadors from Taiwan’s allies, many of whom are friends and live in the same apartment block adjoining their Taipei office, say they are keen to defend Taiwan in international organisations such as the United Nations. But they want more investment and development assistance to solidify the relationship.
“Taiwan needs to focus more on Central America,” says Rafael Fernando Sierra Quesada, the Honduran ambassador to Taiwan. “We don’t want cash but we need Taiwanese companies to invest and for Taiwan to help us become as prosperous in 50 years as they are now.”
Under the circumstances as a non-partisan (unlike the Vatican),  I'd have done what the non-Vatican recognizers of Taiwan have done: try to extract maximum concessions from both Taiwan and China by waving around the prize of diplomatic recognition. In a more recent article commenting more on Tsai's swing through Central America, the role of financial incentives cannot be underestimated:
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has been hopscotching across Central America this week, attending the inauguration of Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, touring Guatemala’s colonial city of Antigua and visiting the shrine of Honduras’s patron saint.

From a global perspective, it is the sort of tour that looks like a diplomatic asterisk. But there is nothing trivial about it for Ms. Tsai, who is in Central America to shore up relationships amid increasing pressure from China.

Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, has diplomatic relations with only 20 countries, along with the Vatican; the largest cluster of those is in Latin America and the Caribbean. These relationships, complete with embassies, trade agreements and foreign aid, strengthen Taiwan’s effective sovereignty.
Historically, the Central American countries, like others with formal ties to Taiwan, have found the arrangement favorable because Taiwan spent heavily to maintain them. But the money has sometimes ended up in the wrong hands. “Until the late 1990s, this was all about state bribery,” Mr. Alexander said.

Former President Alfonso Portillo of Guatemala admitted in United States Federal Court in 2014 that he had received $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan between 1999 and 2002 — ostensibly intended to buy books for school libraries — in exchange for diplomatic recognition.

Before his death last year, Francisco Flores, a former president of El Salvador, was charged with channeling $10 million in donations from Taiwan for victims of a 2001 earthquake to his political party. An additional $5 million in donations also disappeared.

There is a darker side to the relationships, too, going back to the Cold War. In the 1970s, Taiwan trained Guatemalan and Salvadoran military officers involved in rights violations in brutal civil wars.
Taiwan has since ended its “checkbook diplomacy,” in a tacit acknowledgment that it could never outspend China. That has been clear in the Caribbean, where China has invested in expensive projects, sometimes in exchange for switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan.
For all the criticism leveled against the Catholic Church, it's relatively incorruptible when it comes to recognizing Taiwan as the one, true China. With the PRC highly unlikely to permit wider religious participation organized by an external "Western imperialist" institution, a detente meaningful enough to result in the Holy See transferring recognition won't happen anytime soon.

Despite the huffing and puffing, the international situation remains the same: Taiwan and the PRC still compete in buying diplomatic recognition, no more, no less. If not through outright bribery, then it must proceed through ostensibly more legitimate means.