How Taiwan Found A New African Friend In Somaliland?
The relationship between the two largely unrecognized states has given Taipei a foothold in the region despite Beijing’s attempts to freeze it out
The two self-ruled democracies are largely unrecognized on the world stage but can support each other’s’ international ambitions
By Sarah Zheng and Kinling Lo
Somaliland, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The allusion to the closing scene of the Hollywood classic Casablanca, came in a tweet earlier this month from Taiwanese government spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka discussing the burgeoning relationship between the two largely unrecognized states.
In July the two governments announced that they had signed a treaty earlier in the year to establish representative offices in each other’s’ capitals.
The move marked a breakthrough for two self-governing democracies that are largely unrecognized by the rest of the world.
Taiwan now has just 15 official diplomatic allies as Beijing moves to choke off its diplomatic space, while Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 in the middle of Somalia’s civil war, is not recognized by any country.
Beijing has been steadily increasing its influence in the Horn of Africa and has made repeated attempts to prevent Taiwan moving closer to Somaliland.
Diplomatic observers expect China to continue to court Somaliland – which is located next to Djibouti, where China has a military base.
Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Taipei’s Tamkang University, said, a representative office there would boost Taiwan’s limited presence in Africa and could potentially house a military attache.
“Over the past few years, many countries have grown more suspicious of ties with China and Chinese investments, which does give Taiwan more space to maneuver,” Huang, also former deputy minister on Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said.
“However, that space is also limited because ultimately it depends on how much that country relies on China.
“Even if the US backs Taiwan more, the determining factor for how many allies Taiwan can keep depends on how much money and effort Beijing wants to spend to lure countries away from Taiwan.”
The diplomatic battle between Beijing and Taipei has intensified in recent years, as official exchanges have frozen over Beijing’s unwillingness to engage with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen‘s independence-leaning administration.
Taiwan has accused Beijing of using “dollar diplomacy” to woo Taiwan’s remaining allies – including through big-ticket infrastructure funding – that has left the island with eSwatini as its only official ally in Africa.
Beijing has criticized the new friendship with Somaliland, asserting that Taiwan was part of China and noting Somalia’s complaints that Taiwan was undermining its sovereignty.
The US National Security Council (NSC) also responded by tweeting that it was “great to see Taiwan stepping up its engagement in East Africa”.
Since the announcement of informal ties, Taipei and Beijing have both made overtures to Somaliland.
Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu tweeted last weekend that Somaliland’s first representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Ogar Hagi Mohamoud, had “braved China’s pressure to arrive in Taiwan” and thanked the NSC for its support.
“The fact ‘sovereignty (and) friendship aren’t for sale’ deserves international recognition,” he wrote.
One day before Hagi’s arrival on August 8, Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi met with a high-level Chinese delegation – led by Zhou Yuxiao, ambassador to the Forum on China-African Cooperation Affairs – to discuss economic cooperation and trade.