Taiwan Establishes New Diplomatic Mission in Africa

August 17, 2020 Updated: August 17, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan—Taiwan opened a new diplomatic outpost in Africa on Aug. 17 in the capital of Somaliland, the island’s newest ally.

Mohamed Ali Bile, director-general of Somaliland’s presidential office, posted a video on his Twitter account on Aug. 17, showing Taiwan’s flag being raised outside the new diplomatic compound in the city of Hargeisa.

He called it a “historic moment,” adding that “Somaliland and Taiwan and its allies [have] a common principle and values of democracy, sovereignty, peace, human rights and aiming for a better tomorrow.”

Taiwan’s new representative office comes amid the Chinese regime’s efforts to isolate the self-ruled island from the international community by prying away the island’s diplomatic allies. Beijing sees the island as a part of its territory and thus seeks to diminish its status as a sovereign state.

Since 2016, Taiwan has lost seven diplomatic partners to Beijing: Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.

Taiwan has 15 remaining diplomatic allies, with its only ally in Africa being Eswatini.

Taiwan and Somaliland are not official diplomatic allies yet, as the two sides only established bilateral ties in July, signing an agreement to mutually establish representative offices and cooperate in the areas of fisheries, agriculture, and public health.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a press release issued Monday night, said the opening ceremony of the island’s office was hosted by Lou Cheng-wa, Taiwan’s representative to Somaliland, and Yasin Hagi Mohamoud, Somaliland’s foreign minister. Over 50 Somaliland government officials attended.

After the ceremony, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu and Mohamoud jointly signed a cooperation agreement through video conferencing.

Back in July, the White House National Security Council (NSC) welcomed the two states’ new bilateral ties in a tweet.

“Great to see #Taiwan stepping up its engagement in East #Africa in a time of such tremendous need. #Taiwan is a great partner in health, education, technical assistance, and more!,” NSC wrote.

In contrast, Somalia, from which Somaliland broke away from in 1991, voiced support for China’s “One-China” principle in a July statement.  It also “denounced Taiwan’s violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia.”

Somaliland, located in the larger Horn of Africa region, has a population of about 3.9 million. Since declaring its independence in 1991, it has yet to be recognized by any foreign government.

Since 2003, Somaliland has held three presidential elections. In 2017, several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union, sent a delegation to observe Somaliland’s presidential election.

On July 6, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, of “staging separatist activities in the international arena,” over the island’s inking of ties with Somaliland.

On Aug. 6, the Somaliland Chronicle reported that Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi rejected a development package deal from China after meeting a Chinese delegation that included China’s ambassador to Somalia. The package included China’s offer to construct roads and airport infrastructure in Somaliland.

Bihi also rejected the delegation’s request to sever ties with Taiwan, according to the Somaliland Chronicle.

Somaliland’s representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Haji, arrived in the island in early August to take up his post.

Haji recently retweeted an NSC post that quoted remarks made by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during his recent Taiwan trip.

“The @WHNSC reiterates Taiwan’s good companionship with the #US & has encouraged to the rest of the #world to become friends with such a reliable & like-minded country,” Haji wrote.

He added: “#Somaliland became the first like-minded country in the East & the Horn of Africa that relied on #Taiwan.”

Thomas J. Shattuck, managing director at the U.S.-based think tank Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote an article in July explaining the significance of the new bilateral ties for the Taiwanese government.

“While a developing bilateral relationship likely will not amount to much economically or militarily, it could show how the [current president] Tsai Ing-wen government may choose to navigate the next four years diplomatically by finding unlikely new partners that are not as beholden to China or the international community,” Shattuck wrote.

He concluded: “At the very least, it is a change in tempo for Taiwan’s diplomatic fortunes since 2016.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer