Tuesday, April 17, 2012


President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan on his visit to Swaziland just ending said his country would ‘conditionally provide assistance’ to its diplomatic allies in Africa.

What he did not spell out was just what these conditions might be. But, Taipei observers know that it means that to get aid from Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China) you have to give it in return international support for its continued diplomatic row with the People’s Republic of China (‘mainland’ China).

Taiwan is generally not recognised in the international community and is not allowed to sit in the United Nations (UN).

Taiwan wants to join the UN and Swaziland has a vote that could be used to support it. Because the People’s Republic of China does not want Taiwan in the UN, few countries support Taiwan. Those, like Swaziland, that do, get ‘friendship’, usually in the form of development aid or hotel trips to Taiwan for newspaper editors and politicians.

Taiwan has a policy of buying friendship with developing countries and Swaziland is one of these ‘friends’. Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has few friends itself in the international community and seeks out help wherever it may be. The King had close ties with Colonel Muammar Gadaffi before the Libyan leader was toppled from power.

King Mswati finds himself isolated because democracies frown on the way he keeps his subjects under his thumb, as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, in a kingdom where all political parties and opposition groups are banned.

On his trip this week President Ma gave Swaziland 300 notebook computers worth US$300,000 and 1,080 metric tonnesof rice worth US$157,400 to help feed the hungry people in Swaziland, where seven in ten people earn less than US$2 a day.

In return, King Mswati gave the president a lavish state banquet and a medal.

While in Swaziland, President Ma said Taiwan would not oppose its allies’ trade links with China as long as they did not establish diplomatic ties.

And that was a not very subtle warning to Swaziland that it must pay for the ‘aid’ that it gets from Taiwan. Malawi found this out in March 2008 when it decided to support the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan immediately punished Malawi for this by withdrawing its aid from the country, regardless of how much suffering this would cause.

Instead, Taiwan transferred what should have gone to Malawi and gave it to Swaziland.

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