TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Rasheed Griffith, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, says Taiwan’s last remaining allies will swap allegiance to Beijing within the next 10 years.
Griffith, originally from Barbados, testified before the U.S. Congress on Chinese geopolitical influence in the Caribbean, in May. He shared his concerns about the future of Taiwan in his home region for an episode of the Policy People podcast released on Friday (Aug. 27).
Griffith, who analyzes China in the Caribbean as the host of his own show, said Chinese investment in the region is quite a recent phenomenon. “The opportunity cost of keeping Taiwan as an ally relative to the potential gain of PRC (China) has been fairly small in the Caribbean over the last few decades since China is only a new player."
However, in the past decade China’s investment has ramped up rapidly, which is why we have seen Taiwan’s allies start to drop, he said. That means the cumulative cost of sticking by Taiwan is growing each year.
Griffith said the momentum toward China is felt not only from Beijing itself but within the region too. As more Caribbean countries align with China, the pro-Beijing bloc will pressure Taiwan’s remaining allies to make the swap, he said.
This is because countries in the region typically vote as a bloc in international fora, such as the U.N., and like to be on the same page on all major issues. He added regional unity extends to global trade, pointing out how the Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries, a grouping of 15 states, signed a trade deal with the EU together.
Griffith says the internal mechanisms of regional politics will pull the region towards resolving this “one China policy” in favor of Beijing.
Change of the guard
Griffith said Taiwan has managed to hold on to its few friends in the Caribbean. This is not based on economic interests, as is commonly claimed, as much as the personal preferences of the country’s leaders for Taiwan over China.
He gave the example of St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines, where the Taiwan-friendly President Ralph Everard Gonsalves has been in power for over 20 years. Here the relationship relies on personal ties between himself and Taipei, rather than the economic interests of the country.
Yet upcoming changes in leadership will also increase the likelihood of a swap to Beijing, Griffith said. “He will not be in power forever of course.”
It seems St. Kitts and Nevis will probably be the last ally to fall, but not because they are particularly attached to Taiwan per se, according to Griffith. “One of their biggest industries is passport sales and their biggest clients are Chinese.”
“However, dual citizenship is not allowed in the PRC, I think Beijing would force the issue and say, ‘Hey, you have to report passport sales of our citizens’ which they wouldn’t want,” he said.
No fault of Taiwan
Griffith, who has a background in finance, said his analysis may sound bleak for Taiwan, but it is the simplest explanation and is based on economic rationalism rather than on political ideology, or other factors.
“Through no fault of Taiwan will this all happen,” he said. Griffith added that Taiwan has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the region, citing generous scholarships, agricultural training programs, and language exchange programs as some of the most successful programs it has undertaken.
Except for when Taiwan held back on renegotiating debt with Granada in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which delayed the country’s reconstruction, Griffith said Taiwan has done great things for the region.
“On Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter page or Facebook page, they are always talking about their Caribbean allies,” he said. This means Taiwan constantly tries to increase the visibility of the smaller, often-overlooked countries in the area.
Taiwan certainly does much better than any other ally in terms of soft diplomacy, he said. “Unfortunately, soft diplomacy will always pale in comparison to hard, cold, economic facts.”