Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his deputy, Sir Louis Straker have both described the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) as ungrateful after its announced on Tuesday that if elected to office it would switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.
Gonsalves and Straker also reaffirmed their Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration’s commitment to maintaining Kingstown-Taipei ties.
“Any provocation without any warning to sever relationship with Taiwan is beyond reason or beyond comprehension,” Straker told SVGTV News on Tuesday, hours after the NDP’s announcement in Kingstown.
The announcement by NDP President and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, came mere days after Taiwan and St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrated 35 years of unbroken diplomatic relations.
Straker, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, said switching diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing would be “an act of great ingratitude to Taiwan for all that Taiwan has done”.
The senior politician speculated about the reason for the change in the NDP’s foreign policy.
“… it may be that they are angry that Taiwan has helped St. Vincent with the international airport,” he said of the EC$720 million project that has missed completion deadlines annually since 2011.
Taiwan has financed and constructed the terminal building at the airport, which was completed in 2013.
Straker said: “… they figure Taiwan should not help St. Vincent and anything that is good for St. Vincent is bad for the NDP, because it makes the ULP look good,” said Straker, who is also deputy political leader of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP).
“But Taiwan has always stayed out of politics in St. Vincent and has always dealt with the government in power, which is the normal thing to do.”
In making the announcement, Eustace said that the NDP “constantly monitors the state of international affairs, with specific emphasis on how they impact various parts of the world, our own vital economic and other interests, as a small island developing state in the Caribbean…
“In this regard, 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, I hereby formally announce that the New Democratic Party of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as of today’s date, August 23rd, 2016, has taken the decision to recognise the United Nations accepted norm of a One China Policy.”
But Straker was lost for words, telling SVGTV, “So, I am really, really — I don’t know what to say because this thing has caught be by surprise as it would all Vincentians and if the NDP thinks that by recognising communist China that they are going to prosper more with that country, they are in for a rude awakening. They should realise that St. Lucia tried it and St. Lucia came right back to supporting Taiwan.”
St. Lucia initially established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1984, but switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1997. Ten years later, the country switched back its diplomatic recognition to China after the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government was voted out of office in 2007 and replaced by the United Workers Party administration.
Sources in diplomatic circles say that St. Lucia wanted to re-established ties with China in 2012 after the SLP was returned to office, but was rebuffed by Beijing amidst warmer relations between China and Taiwan.
Straker said that the NDP would never establish relations with China because the Vincentian electorate would not elect the party to office.
The NDP holds seven of the 15 seats in the legislature while the ULP hold eight.
“… the people of this country would never vote for a party that turns its back on Taiwan after all that Taiwan has done for this country. People here are Christian people, they believe in gratitude and this act of great ingratitude would be rewarded by putting them right back in opposition and maybe because of this, they might lose ever seat in this country,” Straker said.
“But I want it to be known that I and my government, the Unity Labour Party government would remain steadfast, firm in our commitment to supporting Taiwan and we are sure that Taiwan would continue its strong support of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He noted that the prime minister will travel to Taiwan in October.
“He is going there and I am sure when he comes back he would have additional help from Taiwan for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So I would say long live the strong relationship between us and Taiwan… This friendship would continue and would grow stronger and stronger with the Unity Labour Party,” Straker said.
Gonsalves said that during his visit, he will also discuss with Taiwan the establishment a diplomatic presence in Taipei.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves, speaking to SVGTV separately on Tuesday, noted that timing of the NDP’s announcement.
“Up to three months ago, at a public function at the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Eustace reconfirmed his unswerving and unequivocal commitment and that of the NDP to the Republic of China (Taiwan). Indeed, he waxed lyrically by saying that this bond is no longer a state-to-state bond but a people to people bond. And I agree with that,” Gonsalves said.
He said another element of the discussion “is a matter of gratitude.
“And I have always been very grateful to people who have been good to me, who have been helpful to me, whether it is the voters who put me in office, whether people in my community who helped me with various things, my family and other countries.”
He said that when SVG was about to start its international airport, the country needed commitments of a significant number and got a US$20 million grant from Taiwan, apart from loans that SVG borrowed from Taiwan.
Gonsalves also noted that Taiwan designed and funded the Rabacca Dry River.
“That is life-changing for the people north of the Dry River,” Gonsalves said.
The Taiwan embassy in Kingstown also said Tuesday that it was surprised by the NDP’s decision, adding that it has had friendly and cordial relations with the leadership of the NDP.