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Economic dependence on China once again seems to be behind a country’s decision to avoid interactions with Taiwan.
A discombobulated Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps on Friday revealed that Kyrgyz authorities had rejected the group’s application to provide medical services to communities in remote parts of the Central Asian country this summer due to political interference by Beijing.
According to Liu Chi-chun (劉啟群), head of the medical NGO, this was the first time in 21 years that a country had turned it down due to ostensible pressure from Beijing. The team was scheduled to be on the ground in the republic between July 23 and Aug. 1.
Last month, three representatives from Taiwan held preparatory meetings in Chon-Alay in the Kyrgyz countryside and mapped out a plan with local officials.
At the eleventh-hour the foreign ministry in Bishkek denied approval for the Taiwanese team’s entry into the country, citing “one China.” The letter, dated June 3 and issued by the Plenipotentiary Representation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the South of Kyrgyzstan, wrote that “Kyrgyzstan upholds the unchanging position in regards of the ‘Taiwan issue,’ which has been synchronizing on a permanent basis at bilateral of different levels: "Taiwan is an integral part of China territory and the Government of People’s Republic of China is the one lawful Government who authorized to represent all China country.”
“In this connection,” the letter continues, “we do not recommend to admit official contacts with a state organizations, non-governmental organizations, business communities and private individuals from Taiwan imperatively.”
Besides sounding as if it were drafted by a Chinese official, the official missive takes “one China” to a whole new level, banning not only official contact with Taiwanese institutions and individuals — the standard fare — but NGOs, the business community and private individuals. In other words, all of Taiwan’s 23 million people have apparently been PNG’d.
The Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps will instead head for Sri Lanka during that period to provide medical relief to parts of the country that were ravaged by recent flooding.
The incident has echoes of the Nepali government’s initial decision (eventually reversed) to turn down an offer by Taiwanese rescue teams to provide search-and-rescue assistance following the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April 2014, killing more than 3,200 people and displacing thousands. It is widely believed that Chinese interference, as well as Katmandu’s growing economic dependence on China, led to the decision.
Unsurprisingly, Kyrgyzstan also looks to improve its relations with Beijing and may therefore be inclined to toe the line on “one China.” During a meeting with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in Bishkek on May 29, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (王毅) said China was willing to work with Kyrgyzstan to boost bilateral relations and cooperation in all fields. Building on the “strategic partnership” established between the two countries, Beijing is “willing to take the joint construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road as an opportunity to push forward the two countries’ cooperation in production capacity, infrastructure, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges,” Xinhua cited Wang as saying.
Kyrgyzstan’s economic dependence on China likely plays a large role on its foreign policy. Among other things, the Central Asian republic is extremely dependent on the import and re-export of Chinese goods. Moreover China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has reportedly offered to build refineries in the country and help it develop its energy sector.
Economic incentives also appear to have been behind Athens’ refusal to grant landing rights to Taiwan’s China Airlines despite an earlier oral agreement, as The News Lens International reported last week.
The Kyrgyz snub also adds fuel to speculation that Beijing may be applying pressure on various countries to distance themselves from Taiwan until President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who came into office on May 20, recognizes “one China” — stillborn in Taiwan — and parrots Beijing’s official position on the so-called “1992 consensus.” Without evidence to prove that such pressure exists, we cannot discount the possibility that states may be making such decisions on their own to win points in Beijing.
Regardless of the reason for Bishkek’s decision, silly politics once again leave the most vulnerable people behind, in this case, Kyrgyz inhabitants of remote areas where medical services are inadequate.