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June 27, 2017

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International relations enigma haunts 'flexible diplomacy'

President Porfirio Lobo Sosa of Honduras wants to set up a Honduran trade office in Beijing. With this he has confirmed his clear intentions to open diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, a situation that he said should not affect relations with Taiwan. He also told a press conference it is the right of a sovereign country like Honduras to have relations with any other country of the world, and asked "who's going to place conditions on us saying with this one yes, with that one no?" He didn't say diplomatic recognition but he meant it. Well, it's diplomatic, but enigmatic.

Officially, Taipei also responded diplomatically. Foreign Minister David Lin said the bilateral relationship with Honduras remains "normal" and "solid" and "will not be affected" even if Tegucigalpa moves to develop economic and trade relations with China. However, he added, Taipei does not consider it acceptable for its diplomatic allies to recognize China while maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan. "We don't think dual recognition is acceptable and we don't think that will happen," he stressed.

Maybe. Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou is practicing "flexible diplomacy" that aims at ending the competition between Taipei and Beijing to poach each other's diplomatic allies. It has worked since he was inaugurated in May 2008. None of Taiwan's 23 allies have since defected to China.

But the flexible diplomacy, like the pragmatic diplomacy former President Lee Teng-hui practiced, isn't flexible enough. There's a difference in translation into English of Ma's "flexible diplomacy (活路外交)." Literally and practically, it can also be rendered as "way-out diplomacy." It's a diplomacy that is meant to enable Taiwan to find a way out of the predicament of losing countries with which it had hoped to maintain diplomatic relations.

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