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'Flexible diplomacy' helps improve Taiwan's image in Pacific

'Flexible diplomacy' helps improve Taiwan's image in Pacific

Taipei, April 3 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou has insisted in his two years in office that a flexible diplomatic strategy could help Taiwan break free from the stigma of checkbook diplomacy and project a new image and status in the international community.
If he needed validation of the strategy, he may have found it during a recent visit to Taiwan's six allies in the South Pacific, where Taiwan and China have long engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war for the loyalty of allies.
The shift in Australia's attitude toward Taiwan seen prior to and during the trip provides a telling example of how Taiwan's new diplomatic strategy has earned it positive international recognition.
Canberra has abhorred the corrupt practices engendered by the fight for allies between Taiwan and China, and it was on edge whenever the Solomon Islands, one of the main battlegrounds of the two diplomatic combatants, held parliamentary elections.
Feeling obliged to prevent Taiwan and China from interfering in the elections through unethical means, Canberra would even send senior officials to the Solomon Islands to monitor the situation closely.
When Ma visited Australia four years ago in his capacity as chairman of the then-opposition Kuomintang, he felt humiliated, as Australian officials tended to show contempt whenever they mentioned Taiwan. That experience helped spawn the concept of flexible diplomacy -- which the administration describes as a "modus vivendi" approach -- and Ma vowed to change Australia's views on Taiwan should he win the presidency.
"One should not do anything illegitimate or improper if one wants to win others' respect," Ma believed.
Australia's new attitude was on display during Ma's trip to the Solomon Islands, where he was able to freely enter the headquarters of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to listen to briefings on the key functions of the organization, which is led by Australia and New Zealand.
Ma also won the praise of Australian media, including in an article by the Australian headlined, "Taiwan purges Pacific island graft." So it was hard for others to imagine the ridicule Ma has endured in promoting his "flexible diplomacy" and the idea of a "diplomatic truce" with China.
Critics mocked the strategy as a "diplomatic shock" and a "diplomatic holiday" and argued that it left the country's relations with its 23 diplomatic allies dependent on charity from China.
Ma was determined to refute the criticism with concrete action during his recent South Pacific diplomatic tour that featured visits to each of Taiwan's six allies in the region -- the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Solomon Islands and Palau.
At the stop in Nauru, Ma denied that the diplomatic truce was a diplomatic holiday and said Taiwan was actively strengthening economic and cultural ties with its allies, citing aid programs devised for each of its six Pacific allies that were tailored to their needs. Those aid programs are required to follow the principles of having a legitimate purpose, following legal procedures and being implemented effectively, a departure from the past welcomed on Ma's trip.
"We want to stamp out corruption. Enough is enough, " Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua was quoted as saying by the Australian.
Ma was also greeted in the Solomon Islands by an editorial in the Solomon Star describing "the abuse of your taxpayers' money by MPs using Taiwanese aid money as a slush fund. We are begging you to put a stop to this." Ma responded that he was not afraid to offend diplomatic friends by preventing aid from being used illegitimately or unscrupulously.
The president's words did not fall on deaf ears. A senior Solomon Islands official responsible for a rural development program promised Ma that his agency will keep close tabs on the use of Taiwan-donated funding.
The various assistance programs offered by the president during his visits, such as food aid, garbage treatment, solar energy development, aquaculture assistance, free school lunches and vocational training, coupled with the concern he showed over the potential threat of climate change to the allies, enabled Taiwan to be depicted with a positive, active image in international news coverage.
Such reports are also expected to help make the world community face up to the unreasonable exclusion of Taiwan from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Under the policy of flexible diplomacy, Taiwan has discontinued its confrontational engagement with China in the international arena and has instead practiced diplomacy in a dignified, responsible and cooperative manner, the president said.
The result, Ma argued, is that the international community will no longer be troubled by the negative consequences of cross-strait diplomatic competition and will instead benefit from changes in the cross-strait situation.
He also expects Taiwan's people to benefit as well. At the conclusion of his South Pacific tour, Ma stressed that he was committed to making his "flexible diplomacy" strategy a success, pledging to lead Taiwan out of its diplomatic isolation and to find an opening that will allow Taiwan's people to receive respect when traveling abroad.
(By Garfie Li and Sofia Wu)




Updated : 2021-03-05 01:48 GMT+08:00