If the Gambian leader thought severing diplomatic relations with Taipei will send Beijing scurrying to fill the diplomatic void, he seemed to have overplayed his hand. The break-up has huge fiscal implications for Gambia’s 2014 Budget which is why I think Jammeh would probably like to have this one back despite the initial rebuff of Ambassador Shih’s mission to Banjul last week to try to get Jammeh to reconsider his decision. Here’s why.
The decision by Jammeh obviously took no account of the cross-straits politics that had changed appreciably with the election of Ma Ying-jeou, President of the ROC in May 2008. Ma’s “flexible diplomacy” policy encourages cross-straits trade in exchange for ‘diplomatic space’ for Taiwan. The new policy tries to put aside the diplomatic tit-for-tat that had been the norm where Taiwan and Beijing competed fiercely, even for the limited diplomatic space Taiwan had to operate.
The ruling Kuomintang Party’s (KMT) flexible diplomacy policy compares starkly and favorably with Taipei’s major trading partners like the United States, Japan and the European Union than the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) whose policies towards China are more confrontational. The KMT’s approach is to engage China while DPP’s approach is more confrontational, and strives for independence from China. It appears that China would prefer to engage Taiwan, diplomatically, by maintaining the current atmosphere than to upset the current arrangement. The benefit-cost analysis outcome favors Taipei over Banjul until, as this blog suggested earlier, that Jammeh can sell China the idea that The Gambia is awash with crude oil.
Taiwan’s trading partners see the positive aspect of the new “flexible diplomacy” policy of the KTM which has brought stability, until the break-up with Banjul, in the diplomatic tussle between the cross-strait rivals. An American Think Tank has conducted a study that strongly recommends that the United States use its diplomatic muscle to change the rules of some international organization that will allow for more participation of Taiwan in the international stage. There are active promoters of this approach to creating increased diplomatic space for Taiwan, and Mo’s policy of ‘flexible diplomacy’ with China has made this new diplomatic push possible. Unfortunately, the shifting diplomatic landscape and the changing cross-straits politics did not enter Jammeh’s calculus.
Jammeh’s character and personality are also becoming increasingly important factors in the conduct of future diplomacy, especially following his abrupt decisions to withdraw from the Commonwealth without a referendum or Parliamentary approval and the Taiwan fiasco. And as more details emerge from hearings in the Taiwanese Legislature. For instance, from the prepared statement for the Foreign Minister to the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislature, we now know that Jammeh did set a deadline for Taiwanese to meet his financial demands which has been reported to be $ 10 million in cash.
We also know from the Minister’s report that Jammeh claimed that the money was for “national security” purposes. When Taiwan failed to meet his deadline, he “became discontented with Taipei.” Jammeh never provided details about his request for extra aid. The report to the Legislative Committee by the Foreign Minister attributed the break-up to the “idiosyncrasy and misunderstandings about the Republic of China (ROC) in the process of seeking financial aid.”
To help us understand what was going on, we will attempt to re-construct the timeline. According to initial statements of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jammeh made the demand in January 2013 in the sum of $ 10 million to be delivered in cash and without a receipt so that the transaction cannot be traced to him. We are just now learning that he did give Taiwan a deadline. What is not evident is when the deadline or ultimatum was given to the Taiwanese. Was it before he delivered his 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27th September 2013 or immediately after when he, again, called upon the United Nations to reassess its policy towards the Republic of China (Taiwan). He expressed his concern that “23 million hard-working, peace-loving people of that great country continued to be ignored.”
Jammeh proceeded in the same speech to describe the Taiwan government as a “democratically-elected government…the only legitimate government that defends the interest of the people of Taiwan. With all these great human and democratic values and attributes of Taiwan, Jammeh wondered why Taiwan was “not a member to the vital organs of this global body to contribute their share in search for (global) solutions to…problems.” He delivered his UN speech on 27th September 2013. He withdrew Gambia’s membership to the Commonwealth on 2nd October or 3 days after he returned from his UN trip. He severed ties with Taiwan 15th November 2013 or 54 days after speaking glowingly of Taiwan before the world which speaks volumes of the character of the man. Was the Commonwealth withdrawal a warning shot to Taiwan that Jammeh meant business in carrying out his threat, assuming that Jammeh did, indeed, issue an ultimatum to Taiwan. We will continue to follow the story
Beijing is also following events as they unfold, especially from the Taipei end. Banjul, as always, will stay mute or spew disinformation and twisted logic to keep Gambians in the dark and to deceive its diplomatic partners. Ask Taiwan about Jammeh’s deceitfulness. This is the nature of the idiosyncratic Gambian leader whose mental state is increasingly becoming a matter for concern. As we’ve said before, we will still maintain that China will continue to stay on the sidelines as the diplomatic kerfuffle plays out.