By Kenton X. Chance
The Taiwan embassy in Kingstown says it was “surprised” by Tuesday’s announcement by the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) that if elected to office it would switch diplomatic relations to China.
Nicole Su, counsellor at the Taiwan embassy, told iWitness News that her embassy was “very much surprised” by the announcement by NDP president and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace.
In making the announcement earlier on Tuesday, Eustace said that the change in policy was being made “fully cognisant of the ever evolving symmetry of international affairs, and the principal responsibility and obligation of our party, in or out of government, to diligently pursue and protect the best strategic interests of our country”.
He said the party has taken the decision to “recognise the United Nations accepted norm of a One China Policy.
“Our party, under my leadership, has evolved to the world view that is embraced by almost every country in this region, and indeed the world,” he said in a statement read at his party’s headquarters in Kingstown and broadcast live on radio.
He told reporters that the NDP had not communicated the policy shift to the Taiwan embassy.
In her reaction to the NDP’s announcement, Su told iWitness News that her embassy “regrets” the NDP’s decision, noting that on Aug. 15 Kingstown and Taipei marked 35 years of unbroken diplomatic relations.
“We had no prior indication and we thought that we had been in very good communication with Honourable Eustace,” Su told reporters.
She said the relationship between her embassy and the NDP has been “very friendly and cordial”.
“They have attended our events,” she said, adding that the most recent was on May 20 when the embassy held an event to mark the inauguration of Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen.
“Honourable Arnhim Eustace along with the other [members of the] leadership of the NDP all attended the reception. At the reception, they were very happy and friendly,” Su said.
Su said her country appreciates very much the assistance rendered by SVG, mentioning Kingstown’s solidarity with Taipei in terms of international participation.
“For this, the people and the government of Taiwan are deeply grateful,” she said.
The diplomat said that over the past 35 years, there have been numerous fruitful cooperation initiatives between the two countries in the areas of education, agriculture, health, human resources, and infrastructure.
“To take an example looking at our cooperation in terms of education, since 1998, our embassy has been working with the Ministry of Education every year, to work on the back-to-school project. For 18 years consecutively, every September, about 400 primary and secondary school students have benefited from this programme,” she said.
She also noted that 126 Vincentians have received full scholarship to university degrees in Taiwan since 2004.
“This year, 16 students are awarded and 12 of them have just recently arrived in Taiwan, and four are on their way in the coming weeks. Including the 16 this year, there will be 60 Vincentian students currently studying and exploring their future in Taiwan,” Su said.
She said that because of these cooperation projects, Taiwan feels that the relations between the two countries “is no longer a purely political union”.
“We have transcended from country-to-country relations; we have both worked together make it into people-to-people relations,” Su said.
“We believe that there is true brotherly feeling existing between us, and we strongly believe that the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would feel the same. We are hopeful that our bilateral relations would be further strengthened in the coming future,” Su said.
Beijing and Taipei have been engaged in a decades-old diplomatic war, with each side claiming that it is the sole legitimate government of what is known as China and Taiwan.
Beijing says that Taiwan is a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force, if necessary.
There was a lull in the diplomatic shenanigans between 2008 and the first quarter of 2016, when the nationalists were in power in Taiwan.
However, political observers fear a return to the diplomatic and military tensions with the election in Taipei of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, led by Tsai, Taiwan’s first woman president.
SVG remains one of just five CARICOM nations, three of which are Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States member, that continue to recognise Taipei over Beijing.
The others are St. Lucia, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis and Belize.
The Dominican Republic completes the list of Caribbean nations that recognise Taiwan.