The Dominican Republic government broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan and switch allegiances to China, in a move that highlights the growing economic and geopolitical power of China across the globe. Just last year Panama did the same, accelerating a growing trend in Latin America as China competes with the United States for power, trade relations, and influence.
Nonetheless, Latin America is a region where Taiwan still maintains diplomatic relations with a considerable number of countries; relationships it has assiduously cultivated. Its list of allies includes Belize, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Guatemala, Paraguay, Honduras and Saint Lucia.
Taiwan was ‘deeply upset’ and ‘disappointed’ by the move, with the Taiwan ministry alleging that “Beijing’s crude attempts at foreign policy can only drive a wedge between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, erode mutual trust, and antagonize the people of Taiwan.”
The Dominican Republic government, however, announced that it was not a reflection of any problems in the relationship with Taiwan, but a reflection of current economic realities.
Top presidential legal adviser Flavio Dario Espinal thanked the Taiwanese government in a press conference, but noted that “history and the socioeconomic reality force us now to change direction.”
The move undoubtedly is also a reflection of the largesse that enables China’s roaring economic giant to use its financial clout to win allies throughout the world. The Chinese government reportedly gave USD $3 billion to the Caribbean nation, and is increasingly concerned by the efforts of some US lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to strengthen US-Taiwanese ties.
Despite sharp ideological differences and a robust geopolitical rivalry, the US has maintained formal ties with Beijing since 1979 under the Carter administration, simultaneously breaking relations with Taiwan. That has rubbed some conservatives the wrong way.
Signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 16, 2018, the Taiwan Travel Act is a sign of increasing strain between Beijing and Washington. It allows high-level diplomatic meetings on the soil of both nations and encourages economic and cultural exchange.
The Chinese government has expressed grave concerns over the bill, which was sponsored by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and has accused it of violating China’s Anti-secession act. The Chinese government is intransigent in its perspective that Taiwan is an integral part of China, and has steadfastly refused to recognize the Taipei government, which has ruled the island since 1949, when top Chinese nationalist leaders, defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces, fled across the narrow straight.
While certain political forces are eager to thumb their nose at the Chinese government by strengthening the US-Taiwan relationship, China is also eager to aggressively assert itself in the United States’ traditional sphere of influence. To that end, the Communist government has cultivated economic and geopolitical ties both with ideological allies, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, and with non-ideological allies such as Peru, Colombia, and Chile, with an eye to international trade and economic relationships.
China has invested particularly heavily in Ecuador and Venezuela but also plays a large role in Colombia, where it represents the Andean nation’s second largest trading partner. China has had a hand in infrastructure, development, and investment in the Andean region, which the United States views with growing unease.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for example, has argued that “Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people. China’s state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past.”
This assertion, of course, will be viewed skeptically by those who have long criticized US foreign policy in Latin America. Nut the significant new role of China in the region is scrutinized by political actors on both the left and the right, for concerns ranging from environmental degradation to human rights concerns to trade issues.
China’s ambitions in the region are nothing short of astounding. It is already the largest trading partner of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. In addition to USD $500 billion in projected trade between 2015 and 2019, it also has plans for a further USD $250 billion in foreign direct investment. For nations that struggle to access international credit markets, a partnership with China offers an attractive alternative, particularly given the reputation for speed that the Chinese have in constructing major projects like ports, highways, and railways.
Thus, the United States can use its mouthpieces to object to Chinese machinations in the region, but China is a major new player in Latin America. Which, by all appearances, is unlikely to change any time soon.