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March 23, 2017

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The end of Ma's 'diplomatic truce'

West African island nation Sao Tome and Principe cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan last Wednesday. The ties were established in 1997 when Sao Tome switched diplomatic recognition from Beijing to Taipei.

China congratulated San Tome for derecognizing Taiwan. Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman described the move as one "back onto the correct path of the 'one-China' policy" and acceptance of the so-called "1992 Consensus." Any country that wants diplomatic relations with Beijing must break official ties

The "1992 Consensus" served as the legal basis for the development of peaceful relations with China under the administration of former President Ma Ying-jeou. President Tsai Ing-wen refuses to accept the "1992 Consensus," and Beijing has responded by suspending all official contact with Taipei.

Taiwan's Presidential Office posted a statement on its website accusing Beijing of taking advantage of Sao Tome's financial difficulties to enforce the "one China" principle. "This practice not only hurts the feelings of the people of Taiwan but also destabilizes cross-strait relations," it said.

It hurts the feelings of a few hardcore Taiwan independence supporters and young independeistas, but certainly does not destabilize relations across the strait, which have sunk to a freezing point since Tsai was inaugurated on May 20. As a matter of fact, it hasn't even surprised the Tsai administration.

Tsai was well prepared for the end of President Ma Ying-jeou's "diplomatic truce" long before her inauguration.

On the day of his inauguration in 2008, Ma announced a diplomatic truce to end the tug-of-war between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China for recognition. The game began as soon as Chiang Kai-shek moved his Kuomintang (KMT) government from Nanjing to Taipei at the end of the Chinese civil war. Taipei and Beijing anted up to deprive each other of diplomatic allies. This costly battle of dollar diplomacy came to an abrupt end when Ma declared a truce with the tacit consent of the People's Republic. The truce is practically the only legacy that Ma has left. During his eight-year rule, Taiwan lost only one ally, The Gambia. Like Sao Tome, Banjul cut off diplomatic relations with Taipei, simply because Taiwan failed to donate millions of dollars as requested in 2013. However, unlike was the case with Sao Tome, Beijing abided by a diplomatic truce not to recognize Banjul until after Tsai had been elected president.

That means the People's Republic is going to buy away most of Taiwan's diplomatic allies. The Vatican may be the first domino to fall after Sao Tome. At least seven countries — Burkina Faso, Swaziland, Guatemala, the Republic of Santo Domingo, Belize, Panama and St. Christopher and Nevis — seem ready to follow. President Tsai is scheduled to pay state visits to some of these countries next month with a layover in Houston, Texas. And dominos will continue to fall. A select few allies such as Palau and Vanuatu may remain, but Taiwan will be almost completely isolated in international society with its lebensraum desperately shrunk.

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