What is it with foreign aid and diplomatic relations?

How much is foreign aid responsible for a country maintaining or not maintaining relation with other nations? It may run contrary to the notion that an aid recipient nation has such power as to cut its ties with the donor country. It can be seen as an instance of chutzpah but the issue of Sao Tome cutting ties with Taiwan is what the latter interprets a recent event as.

Sao Tome and Principe, an island nation in Africa, broke ties with Taiwan on December 20, leaving Taiwan with 21 allies now. And look at how the same incident was played by different countries, Sao Tome itself, Taiwan and China (which is no surprise as China and Taiwan rarely not accompany themselves when it comes to diplomatic ties).

For Sao Tome, the decision was made to “defend national interests”. It acknowledged the help Taiwan had been during the course of its bilateral relations with Taiwan. Taiwan was clearly furious that a country it helped in many fronts, including “the areas of public health, medicine, agriculture, basic infrastructure, energy and education” and its role in the eradication of malaria in the island nation. In an act of reciprocity, it was also closing the embassy and halting cooperative programs. It says that it will not be persuaded by a government selling its integrity to its highest bidder disregarding two decades of friendship. It says that it will not work by the rules of checkbook diplomacy, which of course shows how it regards future interaction between Sao Tome and China will be like because a country cutting its diplomatic ties with Taiwan ipso facto makes its relation with China.

China, not to be outdone be recent unease with the US President elect Donald Trump, has regarded the diplomatic-tie-cutting incident as an affirmation of one-China Policy. It linked the telephone call of Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen with Donald Trump with the severing of the diplomatic ties. What’s more, an article on this issue would not even acknowledge the diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Sao Tome as such, instead giving it an element of irony with the use of double inverted comma.

The second smallest country in Africa ahead of Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe has a population of 193,000 and was founded in 1975 after independence from Portugal. It was one of the five countries of Africa to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, others being Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Malawi, and Swaziland.

Now one can anticipate the influx of Chinese tourists in Sao Tome and Principe as a result of its decision in the long run. And in the short run, perhaps some amount of Chinese aid is bound to reach the nation. While the issue of the need of aid may have caused Taiwan to flinch and therefore see this result, the cost of an ally may be too big to have been forsaken.

What does this mean? Is it that even weaker countries do have leverage? Or is it the case with Taiwan losing its already scarce allies to its rich neighbor?  Can anyone call the untying of diplomatic ties with one country just to make relation with another country a choice per se? Is there no such thing as, for the lack of another word, an allegiance? this is in context that Sao Tome and Principe established ties with Taiwan in May 1997, after severing with China. And 20 years on, it has reversed the process.


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