- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Recognition rumble

China’s recent charm offensive in Africa isn’t just about boosting exports and gaining access to oil and raw materials supplies. There’s an anti-Taiwan motive at work as well, according to David Tawei Lee, the island republic’s chief diplomatic representative to the United States.

“Beijing tries in every way it can to steal diplomatic allies from us,” Mr. Lee said in a luncheon he hosted for editors and reporters from The Washington Times this week at Taiwan’s elegant Twin Oaks Estate in Northwest Washington. “This is not really focused on in the United States, but that is clearly a major factor in the mainland’s diplomacy.”

The wooing campaign, capped by the lavish “Summit on Sino-African Cooperation” for four dozen African leaders in Beijing in November, has paid dividends. With Chad’s decision to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing in August, the number of African countries with official ties to Taiwan has fallen from nine to five just in recent months.

Taiwan has so far been able to prevent similar inroads among its allies in Central and South America, but each election and change of government — such as the recent victory by leftist Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — brings fresh worries, writes our correspondent David R. Sands.

The duel for diplomatic allies is an old story between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic, but the growing clout of China’s vast market has made Beijing more willing to play the “soft power” card to deny Taiwan its international allies.

Many of the 29 countries that have formal ties with Taipei “are small, perhaps, but the relationships carry a lot of weight symbolically and psychologically for us,” Mr. Lee said. “This is a zero-sum game for the mainland, and no Taiwanese government can survive these losses without political damage.”

On a happier note, the Taiwanese representative said relations remain excellent with the Bush administration, and many in the new Democratic congressional leadership also have strong ties to Taipei and strong reservations about Beijing, particularly on human rights.

Mr. Lee said relations at the popular level also are close, with Taiwan’s younger generation showing little of the anti-Americanism seen in some other U.S. allies in Asia. Taiwan’s young people also feel little attachment to the mainland, despite China’s recent economic advances.

“For them, China is almost irrelevant. They are much more focused on life at home,” said Mr. Lee. “China to them is just another big country on their border.”

Sore winner

Magnanimity in victory apparently does not come easily to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Fresh from Sunday’s decisive re-election win for another six-year term in power, Mr. Chavez this week brusquely dismissed an olive branch offered by the Bush administration to move beyond the harsh exchanges of recent times. Both U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack this week publicly praised the conduct of the Venezuelan vote and expressed hope for bilateral cooperation.

“The president was re-elected by the decision of the Venezuelan people,” Mr. Brownfield told Caracas-based Union Radio on Tuesday. “We recognize that and we’re ready, willing and eager to explore and see if we can make progress on bilateral issues.”

But the populist Mr. Chavez, who has earned an international reputation as one of Washington’s harshest critics, said in his first postelection press conference he doubted the Bush administration’s overtures were genuine.

“They want dialogue, but on the condition that you accept their positions,” Mr. Chavez said. “If the government of the United States wants dialogue, Venezuela will always have its door open. But I doubt the U.S. government is sincere.”

Mr. Chavez suggested that the United States could show its sincerity by pulling its troops out of Iraq.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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