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Order of Malta may establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan

Warming ties between Taiwan and the Order of Malta may signal the start of a new diplomatic alliance

Flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After a recent spate of defections of diplomatic allies to China, Taiwan may gain a new partner in the Order of Malta, according to a report by Forbes.

According to a report by Forbes, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), not to be confused with the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, may be eyeing establishing diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

The European country's communications director Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate was quoted in the article as saying, "Based on this collaboration, we are confident to develop and deepen the relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).”

The Order of Malta is a Catholic Church order that goes back to the time of the First Crusade and now, like the Vatican, is now a small nation based in Rome and surrounded by Italy. The Order primarily functions as a charitable organization, but has permanent observer status in the United Nations and its own passports, currency and stamps.

Like Taiwan's current Rome-based ally, the Vatican, it does not have formal ties with China, nor does it see eye with its treatment of Catholics. Thus it has both the freedom to choose Taiwan as an ally and has less incentive to tie-up with the officially atheist China.

Overlapping humanitarian aid projects have drawn the two countries closer together in recent years with joint programs in Vietnam, Bulgaria, El Salvador, and Serbia. Most recently, Taiwan has aided the Order in its rescue programs for African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

Recent years have seen an increasing frequency of visits by high-level officials from both nations. In 2012, a delegation from the Order visited Taipei and in 2015, the Grand Master of the Order Fra' Matthew Festing visited Taiwan where he met with then-president Ma Ying-jeou. In 2014, former vice president Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) visited the Order and met with its grand chancellor and later that year, Taiwan's foreign minister met with the Order's Sovereign Council.

Ajroldi de Robbiate did not provide confirmation in the report that diplomatic recognition of Taiwan by the Order was imminent and there have been no signals from the Taiwanese government thus far. Nevertheless, improving relations with a new potential ally is welcome news after a series of losses of allies to what Taiwan refers to as China's "dollar diplomacy."

On December 21, 2016, Sao Tome severed ties with Taiwan, leaving the country with only 21 remaining diplomatic allies. Sources revealed that Sao Tome and Principe had recently asked for financial assistance of up to US$200 million dollars, but was turned down by the ROC government due to its unwillingness to engage in “dollar diplomacy.”

Burkina Faso rejected offers of US$50 billion (NT$1.5 trillion) from China to dump Taiwan and switch recognition to Beijing, the African country’s foreign minister told Bloomberg, in a report published on Jan. 25.