El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan this week, the third country to do so this year. Now only 17 countries formally recognize the Taiwanese government (see map above).
I am no foreign policy wonk, but, it seems to me that the maintenance of diplomatic relations is inextricably linked to the notion of sovereignty, i.e. a nation’s right to self-rule. When you exchange diplomats and maintain an embassy in another country you are announcing to the world: “We The People of Country X do solemnly recognize the right of Country Y to exist and welcome Country Y to the family of nations.”
Only a handful of countries are still willing to extend that courtesy to Taiwan, which is odd considering it has functioned as an independent state for decades—one could argue quite successfully. As a point of comparison, more than 130 countries officially recognize Palestine today.
If sovereignty is to based on the right to self-determination, and the practical existence and functional capability of a government, it is strange that Taiwan would not, at the very least, be placed on equal footing with Palestine. Unless, of course, there are other considerations, which of course there are.
China. The Chinese government is adamant that Taiwan is merely a wayward province, not a sovereign state, which is the crux of the problem. To placate China—and, more importantly, to secure access to Chinese markets—the world maintains a careful ambiguity when it comes to Taiwan. For example:
That new $250 million dollar facility built in Taipei? Why it’s the offices of the American Institute of Taiwan, a self-described “non-profit, private corporation,” which just so happens to be funded and staffed by the U.S. State Department. Most definitely not an embassy. Wink.
It seems most countries have adopted a similar strategy, and the remaining holdouts are under pressure to see it China’s way, El Salvador being only the latest to cave into Chinese demands, but probably not the last given the prevailing geopolitical winds.