By: Deeplaxmi Patil, Research Analyst, GSDN
Nauru, a tiny Micronesian island, was among the select few nations upholding diplomatic relations with Taipei amidst China’s persistent efforts to sway allegiances. The tiny island nation swiftly announced that it will no longer recognise Taiwan as a separate country. Beijing insists that the island is part of China’s territory.
Located in the South Pacific, Nauru has switched loyalties in the past. In 2002, it recognised China after 22 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In 2005, it switched back to Taipei. The latest switch came as a blow to Taipei. It left Taiwan with just 12 allies that officially recognise the island as a sovereign state, although it holds strong unofficial relations with the United States, Japan, and other nations
In a significant shift, Nauru has announced the severance of ties with Taiwan, aligning itself with Beijing’s stance that regards Taiwan as an integral part of China. This decision comes against the backdrop of China’s ongoing diplomatic manoeuvres aimed at undermining Taiwan’s international standing. Taiwan attributes this latest diplomatic setback to the aftermath of its recent elections, wherein the election of William Lai, a staunch advocate of Taiwanese sovereignty, as president, has irked Beijing. Lai’s past support for Taiwanese independence has drawn criticism from China, labelling him a “troublemaker” and further exacerbating tensions between the two sides.
China has been gradually enticing diplomatic allies away from Taiwan, partly as a reprisal against the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which advocates maintaining the current status quo wherein Taiwan operates with its own government, military, and de facto independent status. Despite never having governed the island, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been assertive in its stance that Taiwan must eventually fall under its control. This sentiment has been reinforced by China’s military exercises conducted around the island to underscore its resolve.
Since the initial election of DPP President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, ten countries have shifted their diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. In response to Nauru’s announcement of severing ties, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-Kwang asserted that China’s one-party Communist government aimed to undermine the democracy and freedom valued by the Taiwanese people.
Challenges for Taiwan
Nauru’s decision to recognize China and sever ties with Taiwan poses significant challenges for Taiwan on multiple fronts. Firstly, it reduces Taiwan’s already dwindling number of diplomatic allies, leaving it with only 11 countries and the Vatican. This diminishes Taiwan’s international standing and weakens its ability to participate in global forums and organisations.
Furthermore, China’s continuous efforts to poach Taiwan’s allies not only isolates Taiwan diplomatically but also serves to punish the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP’s advocacy for maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independent status irks China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory. By pressuring Taiwan’s allies to switch allegiance, China aims to undermine the DPP’s legitimacy and promote its own narrative of eventual reunification with Taiwan under its rule.
Moreover, Nauru’s decision underscores the vulnerability of Taiwan’s remaining allies, most of which are developing nations susceptible to China’s economic influence. China’s willingness to offer financial incentives to countries like Nauru demonstrates its strategy of leveraging economic power to gain political support and isolate Taiwan further.
Additionally, the timing of Nauru’s announcement, just two days after Taiwan’s presidential election, suggests a deliberate attempt by China to undermine Taiwan’s democratic process and challenge its values of democracy and freedom. This tactic not only aims to discredit Taiwan’s democracy but also to assert China’s authority and control over the island. While the United States expressed disappointment with Nauru’s decision, its unofficial ties with Taiwan remain strong, including defence cooperation. However, Taiwan’s diplomatic options continue to dwindle, further limiting its ability to engage with the international community. Overall, Nauru’s recognition of China exacerbates Taiwan’s diplomatic challenges, highlights its vulnerability to Chinese pressure and underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics surrounding the Taiwan-China relationship.
Geopolitical Implications of Nauru’s Recognition of China
The geopolitical implications of Nauru severing diplomatic relations with Taiwan and switching to China are multifaceted and significant:
1. Isolation of Taiwan: Nauru’s decision further isolates Taiwan on the international stage, reducing its already limited number of diplomatic allies. This diminishes Taiwan’s ability to engage with the international community and participate in global affairs.
2. Strengthening of China’s Influence: China’s success in convincing Nauru to switch recognition strengthens its influence in the Pacific region. By securing diplomatic ties with Nauru, China extends its reach and strategic presence, potentially enhancing its ability to project power and advance its interests in the region.
3. Challenges to Taiwan’s Sovereignty: Nauru’s move aligns with China’s narrative of Taiwan as an integral part of its territory. This challenges Taiwan’s sovereignty and undermines its efforts to maintain its de facto independence and international recognition as a separate entity from mainland China.
4. Impact on Regional Dynamics: The switch in diplomatic recognition could have broader implications for regional dynamics in the Pacific. It may encourage other countries in the region to reconsider their own relationships with Taiwan and potentially shift their allegiance to China, further consolidating China’s influence and reshaping the geopolitical landscape in the Pacific.
5. Strategic Considerations for Other Nations: Nauru’s decision may prompt other countries, particularly those with diplomatic ties to Taiwan, to reassess their own diplomatic relationships and strategic interests. It highlights the geopolitical competition between China and Taiwan and underscores the complexities of navigating relationships in the context of competing regional and global powers.
In conclusion, Nauru’s decision to recognize China and sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan marks a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape of the region. This move underscores the growing influence of Beijing in global affairs and its concerted efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. It also highlights the complexities of international relations and the pressures faced by smaller nations in navigating between competing interests. As Nauru aligns itself with China, the repercussions of this decision will undoubtedly reverberate across the Asia-Pacific region, shaping future diplomatic dynamics and alliances.