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Explaining Taiwanese Recognition in the Pacific

Author: Nathan Hotter


In 2019 both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, raising the question of why states choose to recognise Taiwan. This essay will find that the main determinant of whether a state recognises Taiwan is domestic political influences with primary reference to the Solomon Islands and Palau. Finding the answer to this question is necessary as a means to direct future research focus, especially on the two aforementioned recognition switches, to determine what specifically caused them. By finding the primary determinant the necessary scope of future research can be reduced and a theoretical framework for answering diplomatic recognition changes can be built.


This essay will first analyse direct domestic influences over the recognition position and how Taiwan in particular utilises these factors to build support, followed by an assessment of primarily international factors and whether these factors can answer the question of what determines Taiwan or China recognition. Generally the international factors fail to answer the question of why recognition switches occur, but they must still be studied to demonstrate the strength of the domestic political factors themselves.


Within the domestic political factors discussed this analysis shall focus on how aid fulfils domestic demands, particularly the immediate needs of the state, but also through the “purchasing” of politicians through various slush funds in the Solomon Islands. This will build an argument that the domestic missteps of Taiwan in regard to financing particular politicians came to be viewed as corrupt, having little effect on the strength of Taiwanese recognition with the domestic public, if not undermining their opinion of Taiwan. Furthermore, this failed to insulate Taiwan against a potential higher bidder for the loyalty of the particular politicians.


Palau on the other hand offers a strong counter view of how Taiwan effectively built domestic support by ensuring it’s actions were viewed as less corrupt and by focusing on real programs that developed parts of the state, rather than just funding individual politicians. Furthermore, the reinforcement of soft power links, from cultural similarities to saving individuals lives through medical assistance reinforced the positive perception Taiwan enjoys, at least within political circles.

From an international perspective this essay will consider international pressure, trip/summit diplomacy and trade. First, international pressure will be shown to have little effect and therefore irrelevant as a causative factor. Second, trip/summit diplomacy will be shown as one potential international factor, however, as an international factor it is more relevant from Taiwan’s side, the cost if you will for Pacific States. Finally, trade will be demonstrated as a preference determined by domestic factors in of itself and therefore simply a reinforcement of those very factors.


Liberal IR Theory


Within the context of domestic politics liberal international relations theory is particularly useful in this study to demonstrate how state preferences are formed. Hence, within the context of each factor the branches of republican, ideational and commercial liberalism[1] as identified by Andrew Moravcsik will be used to expand on the various explanations and clarify their position within theory. Using this theoretical framework at times will help demonstrate how the arguments within this piece connect to broader concepts and ideas. Liberal international relations theory is inherently designed as a possible explanatory factor for international choices and the policy of states and it would therefore be neglectful not to include it within the context of this analysis.


Moravcsik’s work focuses on how state institutions support specific individuals and groups in society, having an impact on who steers and influences policy[2]. The trade offs made by the state are influenced by a number of competing domestic factors[3]. Throughout this discussion the clarity of the various competing domestic factors will become clear, and how these can add up into the recognition choices made by Pacific States. The preferences of the Pacific States are “causally independent”[4] from other actors and therefore how Taiwan or China play to those preferences and meet them effectively determines recognition.


In brief, republican liberalism has a specific focus on how demands are turned into policy by the institutions and procedures of the state[5]. This means that not all societal actors will be represented equally.

Ideational liberalism focuses on the ideas of societal actors within the state about the concept of the state and the preferences those actors have[6]. Within this context ideas about democracy, or culture can be represented depending on the aforementioned republican institutions.


Finally, commercial liberalism analyses the preferences of commercial actors for economic gain[7]. In this manner the state pursues policy which reinforces the economic strength of those actors to grow the economy. All of these subsections of the theory are heavily interlinked, overall, it is often more constructive to consider each element together. For example the clear link between the commercial interest of the state and the idea to grow the economy to improve the wellbeing for those within it, for example, directly connect up. This theoretical framework will therefore have some relevance in explaining and clarifying individual domestic factors throughout the analysis.


Taiwan in the Pacific


Taiwanese recognition and influence across the Pacific is long-standing. Currently of the 15 states that recognise Taiwan four are in the Pacific: Palau, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu. The reality for Taiwan is that this diplomatic recognition is more important for the state than it is for any other country[8]. It is a matter of national security for Taiwan, as without diplomatic recognition its status in the world is slowly eroded and under threat from China. Hence, the amount of emphasis put on the importance of recognition is large. However, due to it’s importance the actions taken by Taiwan to receive recognition are not always in the best interests of those receiving support, or the long-term interests of Taiwan itself.

For some time there was a diplomatic truce in the Pacific under president Ma from the KMT in Taiwan, he pursued a “viable diplomacy”[9] framework where neither China or Taiwan would compete to take any more allies off each other. For some time this held, but with the election of Tsai Ing-wen this truce seems to have broken down, with China actively negotiating again to take allies from Taiwan, with Taiwan losing both Kiribati and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. At the time the truce was initially pursued it was described as “wishful thinking by the Ma administration”[10], yet it held. Some states that considered turning to China were actually turned down by China in the midst of the truce, indicating reciprocity[11]. Furthermore, there was tentative hope as the truce was ongoing that it might hold[12]. However, Yang also stated the long term future of the truce remained uncertain[13]. With the increasing diplomatic competition between China and other actors around the world the truce has clearly fallen apart, with many contributing factors. The results have so far played out as expected with China able to outbid Taiwan.


With the loss of the truce it is important to establish what influences Pacific State decision making on the question of recognition. Then potential switches can be anticipated before they happen by the international community and any negative consequences can be foreseen.


Domestic Political Influences


One of the primary determining factors for the recognition of Taiwan are domestic political interests and demands. These factors are reinforced as a primary driver by Kabutaulaka, arguing that many western policy experts “do not acknowledge that Pacific Leaders are intelligent individuals actively making rational decisions that reflect national interests and complex domestic policies.”[14] With this in mind it is critical that the driving factors of domestic demands are taken seriously and explored in depth.


Republican liberalism focuses on how domestic demands are turned into policy decisions by the institutions of the state[15]. One of the key demands domestically across small Pacific Islands States are the immediate benefits to the family. Many people struggle on the poverty line and as Tobias Haque points out their immediate material incentives must be met[16]. These direct material incentives drive a strong need for aid and other support to the small island developing states in particular. These driving factors create ripe competition for aid flows across Pacific Islands, something China and Taiwan are quite happy to use as a primary bargaining chip with the institutions of the state.


Solomon Islands


In the Solomon Islands Taiwan was the only one to continue their aid programs amidst the civil unrest from 1999-2003[17]. Because of this factor Taiwan was hailed as “the only helper in Solomon Islands’ dark days” by the Solomon’s Governor General Sir Nathaniel Waena in 2005[18]. However, this continued aid has also come under intense international criticism from Australia and academics[19]. By financing the governments during this time many of the contributions ended up as peace payouts, directly in the hands of rebels and other groups[20]. This intense criticism is not unfounded, and many of the aid practices of Taiwan have had similar issues across their duration. Yet, the international criticism did not change the governments feelings about that contribution domestically, at least in the short term. This is an important factor to consider in the long-term stability of the Taiwan Solomon’s relationship and potentially part of the explanation for the intense conflict about the relationship we observe domestically today. By continuing to finance and support parties that may not necessarily be in the states best interest the long term negative effect on Taiwan’s image is able to grow, not just as a supporter of the state during “dark times” but as a contributor to said times. Separating the two in the minds of politicians and the people can be difficult as history leaves its mark.

A fundamental issue with Taiwan’s aid policy in the Solomons was the direct financing of politicians. This support included accusations of funding particular politicians campaigns[21] and direct stipends granted to all politicians in the Solomon parliament to be spent in their respective electorates[22]. This aid program again guaranteed short term support for Taiwan within the institutions of government in the Solomon Islands, as it created a cycle where politicians receive funds, spend those funds in their electorate and then get re-elected as Kabutaulaka argues[23]. Though on that point it would be remiss to mention the fact that there is very high political turnover in the Solomon Islands, with representatives often losing their seats[24]. Due to this high turnover it seems more reasonable to state that these funds provided directly by Taiwan do not necessarily increase re-election chances, but they do effectively buy-out politicians support for Taiwan the minute they arrive into office, a position reinforced by the late Ron Crocombe[25]. By influencing the domestic politics in this way Taiwan could guarantee short-term political support from members of parliament.


However, as time has shown support for Taiwan has not lasted in the Solomons. There appear to be many long term negatives to the strategy of stipends that undermine the idea in the long run. There are many allegations that funds provided by Taiwan have led to corruption[26]. These actions have been used by politicians to speak directly against Taiwan as the examples across 2006 of Tahanuku and Alfred Sasako former members of parliament speaking against Taiwan indicate. They used this as a rallying cry for supporters[27]. With such controversy in the political discussion it is no doubt over time citizens would grow weary of these issues and link them directly to Taiwan as a source of some of the troubles faced by the state and the Solomons fractured politics. Furthermore, this support simply builds relations with politicians but does not necessarily reinforce any measure of soft power with voters themselves, if not undermining that power. Taiwan can effectively buy out politicians and continue to do so but that purchasing power is simply that, purchasing power, up for renegotiation when larger economies such as China come along with more extensive offers.

As the Solomon’s logging industry grew it is also worth taking into account the growing contributions to politicians from other actors[28]. Logging in particular had grown substantially as a contribution to politicians funds from bribes and corruption[29] fundamentally lowering the value of the contributions Taiwan gave to politicians. By undermining that value it was no longer as effective as a means to buy the support of the institutions of the politic. Furthermore, the project proved so popular among MPs that by 2019 the regional development funds that Taiwan started were now contributed to primarily by the Solomon’s government itself, with 80% of the funds coming from the local government rather than Taiwan[30]. This further reduced the clout Taiwan had in the program which was further undermined in 2019 when Chinese officials said they would match Taiwanese contributions towards the funds[31]. In this manner China could overturn Taiwanese support by guaranteeing the minimum of what Taiwan already provided, while not having to worry about any other potential detriments in the action. These slush funds, seen as corrupt by civil society and a means of plundering the resources of the state[32] did nothing to improve Taiwan’s position in the Solomon’s and further contributed to perceptions of corruption in the state, creating a link between Taiwan and these sources of corruption. Jian Yang has reinforced how China has near bottomless pockets, and Taiwan’s are by no means comparable[33]. By relying on a strategy of influencing domestic politicians without considering other avenues of domestic support Taiwan failed to develop any assurance of long-term recognition from the Solomon Islands and left itself open to being outbid, with no real moral high ground to stand on.

One counterargument to this view is that the current domestic troubles in the Solomon’s due to the recognition switch are in fact an indicator of wider domestic support Taiwan did in fact manage to build. On September the 1st Daniel Suidani the premier of Malaita province (the most populous in the Solomons) announced they would be holding an independence referendum[34]. Suidani released a statement that “our conviction is that the … administration has become so obliged and indebted to China that it can no longer provide essential services to protect its citizens’ public health”[35]. However, from this statement it seems more apparent that the demands have been a response to the current COVID-19 crisis rather than an outpouring of domestic support for Taiwan. Furthermore, Malaita province is only home to approximately a third of the Solomon Islands population and can therefore not be considered fully representative of the internal views of the state by any means. In many ways the Taiwan-China struggle in this case is being used for leverage by local actors due to the diverse cultures and languages across the Solomons that are not entirely united. Conflict within the Solomon Islands has been a continual aspect of their political history, from the previously mentioned troubles in the late 90’s to early 2000’s or the riots in 2006[36]. There is a strong history of ethnic tension and cleavages in the Solomons that can be used by local politicians for support. This particular example of an independence referendum is therefore not an example of the domestic support Taiwan actually built, but more of an action by local politicians to shore up their own domestic support, with Taiwan being a handy tool to use. In this manner it is a domestic political factor, but it fails to be a concrete example of any domestic support Taiwan realistically built itself. That if the fundamental failing of Taiwan in this case.

Clearly Taiwan’s methods to build and hold support in the Solomons were fundamentally flawed and did little to create long-term stability in the relationship. As Kabutaulaka points out there were many moments of rockiness in the relationship when Taiwan was not forthcoming with funds[37]. By failing to create a comprehensive campaign to build domestic support at all levels Taiwan did not ensure its own stability and has also contributed to the current ongoing crisis in the Solomons with calls of independence. Some of Suidani’s statements reinforce the clear differences Taiwan has that it can use as purchase in reinforcing its soft power. Suidani is concerned about the impacts on democracy and freedom of religion the current recognition of China will have[38]. The unique position of Taiwan’s government is one of its strongest assets when aligning domestic interests in foreign states, yet this factor was neglected and instead Taiwan focused on dubious aid programs that left a negative stain on it’s image, which eventually led to the diplomatic switch occurring because Taiwan had no feasible means to outbid a higher offer. There were no other avenues of domestic support besides monetary funding available. These specific aid programs were a byproduct of the nature of Solomon Islands politics, but by directly buying into that system Taiwan did little to help itself or the Solomon’s as a whole, especially in the long-term.


Palau


Palau offers a stark divergence from the view of the Solomons. In many ways Palau is an example of how Taiwan can achieve the right settings to encourage recognition, again primarily at the domestic level. One of these primary influence factors that was effectively used was Taiwan’s soft power influence, the very thing its strategy undermined in the Solomons.


According to former President of Palau Kuniwo Nakamura, despite being courted by both parties he made the decision to recognise Taiwan in 1999. The main determining factors for him were, Taiwanese democracy, its status as an island nation, shared cultural similarities and its potential for economic partnership[39]. Of these reasons the majority relate to similarities in perspective and soft power arguments. It stands as an example of how domestic values can influence the decision to recognise Taiwan above simple monetary or trade policy. Nakamura goes on to say that these shared characteristics make a relationship with Taiwan easier to manage[40]. In 2007 ambassador Toribiong further reinforced these primary similarities, emphasising Taiwan being a small country, its democracy, respect for human rights and its economic position in the region[41]. Taken together these reasons present a concrete argument for recognition and build on the shared relationship Palau and Taiwan share, unlike the Solomons where the policy choices of Taiwan undermined any discussion of these shared values. By demonstrating to national leaders the similarities Taiwan offers, in this case Taiwan could strengthen and continue to maintain an effective relationship.


Furthermore, Taiwan’s aid projects in Palau are “small in scale, but rapid, flexible and responsive to the community needs”[42]. This responsive aid interlinked with the needs of domestic society allows Taiwan to grow its image with the domestic politic of the state. Furthermore, Taiwan offers technical cooperation across education, agriculture, aquaculture and medicine[43]. All these factors build a more positive view beyond providing direct funding to politicians who are seen as corrupt as was the case in the Solomon Islands. The differences in these two policies are very stark and offer a view of how Taiwan should focus its influences over small island states.


Taiwan is renowned for its health system, “characterised by good accessibility, comprehensive population coverage, short waiting times, low cost, and national data collection systems for planning and research”[44]. This has offered a unique resource with which Taiwan can build domestic support, especially from todays perspective. Palau has a number of growing medical challenges as outlined by the WHO, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity[45]. Taiwan is in a unique position to offer complex support to the smaller island state, support that the state simply does not have the domestic capacity for. Rebluud Kesolei, deputy chief of staff for Palau president Tommy Remengesau was saved after having a brain haemorrhage by being flown to Taiwan to receive lifesaving support[46]. These sorts of actions build a strong good will for Taiwan domestically. Of late Taiwan has been able to capitalise off it’s medical excellence by providing COVID-19 support and testing to Palau[47]. Amidst COVID-19 there is no doubt this support will be strongly appreciated and further build domestic favour for the recognition of Taiwan. By building up this domestic good-will Taiwan can rely on a strong ongoing relationship.


Beyond healthcare, the cultural connection of austronesian heritage has been regularly highlighted across events and actions by Taiwan[48]. Taiwan has contributed to funding of the Belau National Museum and the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center[49]. These concrete on the ground projects demonstrate a commitment to sharing cultural similarities and provide tangible observable benefits for the domestic population, projects which local government can also be proud of creating, demanding more such projects, creating an effective cycle of support. Cultural exchanges provide a way for Taiwan to broaden and strengthen soft power in the state[50], something that builds domestic support and good will for Taiwan. This in particular is one of the main clauses (6.4) of cooperation with Taiwan that arose from the Second Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit: to set up a shared Austronesian cultural heritage office in Palau, with branches in all Taiwan’s allied states[51]. Taiwan in Palau has made a clear commitment to culture and it’s reinforcement.


It must be stressed how clearly this strategy diverges from the one utilised in the Solomon Islands and how that clear comparison demonstrates how Taiwan can maintain a relationship in the long run. The domestic political factors that influence support for Taiwan allowing recognition must be constantly and carefully managed. Mismanagement of the support can lead to clear repercussions and loss of recognition. The domestic political demands of Pacific Island states must be approached carefully and with long term constructive policies to maintain the relationship across successive governments, as has happened in Palau. The soft power of Taiwan has added a certain strength to the relationship that targeted funding of supporters and purchasing of politicians can not do on its own. Humanitarian diplomacy will help raise Taiwan’s soft power by sharing its outstanding medical capabilities and volunteers[52]. Domestic political demands have clearly led to this windfall in the relationship across multiple administrations. Sometimes the relationship has even strengthened after power transitions as is the case from Nakamura to Remengesau[53]. Even the politicians who have indicated a willingness to re-approach China have stated they do not want to change the official recognition status[54]. By building comprehensive domestic support on both sides of the aisles Taiwan has created a stable relationship in Palau.

The preference of Palau has been support of Taiwan due to the domestic influences filtering through the state, from aid demands, ideational perspectives on shared values to economic benefits. The domestic factors of the liberal IR theory work together to create a clear choice for Palau. The social identity[55] of Palau, especially in the political class, the one who wields power within the institutions of the state aligns with recognition of Taiwan.


International Political Influences


To effectively argue that domestic political factors determine pacific state recognition of Taiwan a counter-argument must be made from an international perspective. Hence, the following will study three key areas, international pressure, trip diplomacy and finally trade. Overall, using these key factors it will further be reinforced that political recognition is determined by domestic factors.


The first factor of pressure is a difficult one to measure, but it can be quickly discounted. As the Solomon Islands were planning to switch recognition to China the U.S. put on some pressure, cancelling a meeting with Mike Pence and the Solomon Islands Prime Minister,[56] the U.S. going on to state that states that switch in this manner find themselves worse off in the long run[57]. While these arguments from the U.S. perspective are heavily hypocritical considering its own stance on the position of Taiwan they nevertheless applied this pressure. Clearly it was ineffectual on the actual decision the Solomon Islands made. Another instance of this behaviour comes from New Zealand and Australia who in the past have pressured states to recognise China over Taiwan according to Crocombe[58]. Again in the early 2000’s this failed to create any significant changes in recognition in the Pacific. Clearly international demands even from major players like the United States do little to deter Pacific states from charting their own course in their recognition strategy, thereby undermining any argument for this factors significance.


One large factor, somewhat tying into the above is trip/summit diplomacy. The travel pacific leaders conduct while being courted by both Taiwan and China is extensive. Yang argues this visit diplomacy is important as key decision making can rest with a few decision makers in each state[59], thereby courting the right officials in international settings can provide further strength to Taiwan or China’s argument for recognition. The Tongan King visited Taiwan 8 times from 1977-1997 for example, each trip paid for by Taiwan[60]. Yet despite this reality Tonga switched recognition from Taiwan to China in 1998. While visit diplomacy might be one factor in a broader set of influence policies it is clearly not the only one. Influencing the key domestic players in this manner is also a reflection of domestic politics however. As Yang said these players wield a lot of domestic influence and therefore Taiwan and China court them as they are a key part of the structures of the state. With these particular individuals on board they can be assured in their relationships and the continuing longevity of recognition.


Summit diplomacy alongside visit diplomacy is also another possible international factor. The first Taiwan Pacific Allies Summit occurred in Palau in 2006, from the summit a declaration was released recognising Taiwan as a country and its need to be included in international bodies[61]. Furthermore, officials from Fiji and Guam attended the summit despite not being Taiwanese allies[62]. However, while an international factor this summit diplomacy is not a reason on its own to recognise Taiwan or China, instead it is a reflection of the demands Taiwan and China put on their recognising states in exchange for the relationship they enjoy. It is not all a one way street. These summits and the resulting declarations for example: “Taiwan’s allies acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign nation whose right to participate in international organisations … cannot be deprived,”[63] are designed to fulfil the other end of the bargain. While other areas of cooperation are established during the summit’s that is not realistically a strong argument for why these summits occur when there are already multilateral areas of cooperation available across the Pacific. The areas indicated for cooperation are, however, useful in assessing some of the attending governments priorities as earlier indicated. But, fundamentally the fact that states that don’t even recognise Taiwan attended indicates this can not be a causative factor in recognition.


The final international argument that has strength is one from a trade position. Perhaps trade can be an indication of who each state recognises. This is likely the strongest argument from all the international positions, especially in the targeted study of Palau and the Solomon Islands. However, when a study of the Solomon Islands exports is conducted, the finding clearly shows in Fig 1 (data compiled from OEC statistics[64]), that after some initial and rapid growth in the early to mid 2000’s\s trade with China has been dominant for at least the last decade. With that reality in mind the question that arises is how this could be the dominant determining factor when for a decade exports to China have been larger than those to Taiwan. Throughout this whole time Taiwan was recognised. If trade was a dominant influence over recognition the switch would have been expected earlier. In fact in recent years exports to Taiwan had increased, from around 0% of total exports to 3.42%[65]. Kabutaulaka stated that the trade reality might indicate a need for a shift in recognition in the Solomon’s in the long term[66], however, in the short term staying with Taiwan was more beneficial[67]. In the long term he seems to be proved correct.


Despite this fact, trade policy in of itself is not inherently an international political influence or causative factor. Trade policy is directed by domestic commercial interests. This has partly already been shown with the logging industry in the Solomon Islands and the bribes given to officials. The commercial interests of various groups in society determine influence over this policy. Commercial liberalism as a part of IR theory, “explains the individual and collective behaviour of states based on the patterns of market incentives facing domestic and transnational economic actors.”[68] In this case the extensive logging industry in the Solomon’s has a strong incentive to campaign for policy that will benefit it. As a social group at the domestic level the logging industry has very strong policy interests when their exports go overwhelmingly to China[69]. This preference of the industry is for recognition of China as that can lead to a windfall in tariff reductions and other measures that benefit the industry itself. Prime Minister Sogavare of the Solomons even explicitly stated that “when it comes to economics and politics, Taiwan is completely useless to us”[70]. This reflects a final realisation of the trade reality that for many years had been overcome by other domestic concerns. Though, that preference to switch to China for economic means comes from domestic sources itself as well. It can not be argued as an international factor for that very reason.

The actual trade policy/recognition switch is an international move but it is determined by a strong domestic influence. The strength of this influence can further be reinforced through Busch and Reinhardt’s work on geography and trade, finding that geographically concentrated industries develop a strong preference for trade policy in line with their economic desires[71]. Being such a small state with an industry concentrated around a physical resource this naturally happens, resulting in strong preference formation. The growing influence of the industry and its attempts to sway politicians domestically indicate the strength of this factor. Yet, this factor is also domestic, even if it may appear to be an international one at first glance. Much like aid policy is an international action but caused by domestic demands and interests. Overall, resulting in a recognition preference at the state level.



Conclusion


Throughout this analysis it has become clear that domestic political factors influence every part of the recognition decision making process. Domestic demands are translated into policy by the institutions/politicians of Pacific States resulting in recognition of either Taiwan or China. This analysis has thoroughly demonstrated that the recognition of Taiwan in the Pacific is determined by domestic factors. When Taiwan fails to achieve the right policy settings, as demonstrated in the Solomon’s those domestic factors move against Taiwanese recognition to China. On the other hand, Taiwan’s influences in Palau have reinforced its position and ensured a long lasting relationship. The stability in the relationship has led to shared trust and vision[72] which further reinforces the relationship itself.

Domestic political demands have consistently come out on top, from domestic industry desires, aid programs, funding of politicians, cultural funding and connections to healthcare. Without a doubt the international factors of summit/trip diplomacy and international pressure do little to influence a choice either way. The weight of the decision is clearly placed on the domestic political interests and then turned into state preferences. In many ways this finding also strengthens the foundations of liberal international relations theory as proposed by Moravcsik as it helps confirm the theories applicability to various situations and the strength of domestic factors themselves. It is expected future research on Pacific States should back up this finding, and it is critical more is conducted to explain other changes, such as the situation in Kiribati. Further verification of the findings in this analysis are critical to reinforce and confirm them.

Recognising how domestic demands turn into state preferences is critical for future Taiwanese relationships with Pacific States. Taiwan can not continue to make policy blunders as it can be far outbid by China in an economic sense. Taiwan must focus on the areas it can provide a unique perspective by reinforcing its position as a friend, democracy and island state. This influence must extend far past the upper levels of the state down to the general populace. With strong domestic support it will become more difficult for those in power to be bought out either way. Expanding programs that educate and inform citizens about the relationship should be a critical and paramount area of policy concern for Taiwan.

For Pacific Island states themselves, the bargaining between Taiwan and China still has the potential to increase the benefits they receive from either. There is no reason for Pacific States to stop their bargaining for higher rewards, especially as the current diplomatic competition heats up. Yet, the Solomon Islands offers a cautionary tale of how quick decisions without possible consideration of their consequences can play out. Internal strife over a recognition shift is the last thing an island needs especially in the current climate. With that in mind island states must still be cautious in their decision making, and wary of what all individuals think about such changes. As the diplomatic competition heats up there are clear examples of the negative implications it can bring, as Crocombe says China’s ambassadors in the region are far more demanding for reciprocal support[73]. This has played out recently with the hospitalisation of a Taiwanese diplomat in Fiji after fighting broke out at a national day event as two Chinese diplomats tried to force their way in[74]. As the diplomatic competition intensifies there is no doubt instances such as this will continue to occur.

The COVID-19 crisis is another example of how diplomatic and domestic factors across the Pacific may change as well. With China and Taiwan both effectively containing the virus they each have another potential bargaining chip. Taiwan has already donated support in both food and medical supplies to Malaita province in the Solomon Islands[75], these actions can build support for each state but could also inflame tensions as demonstrated in the Solomons. Both Pacific States and Taiwan have to be careful when negotiating all their relations so as not to cause strife and harm. Only time will tell how the diplomatic competition changes over the following years, but it must be navigated with care. As Crocombe says “all know how the game is played and none seem troubled by ethics or integrity,”[76] this must change for there to be a stable Pacific and stable recognition.



Nathan Hotter is currently a Fellow with the Global Island Partnership while also pursuing an Honours in International relations at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). Hotter holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from VUW.






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[1]Andrew Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics,” International Organization 51, no. 4 (Autumn 1997): 530, 525, 528. [2] Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously,” 518. [3]Ibid, 520. [4]Ibid, 519. [5]Ibid, 530. [6]Ibid, 525. [7]Ibid, 528. [8]Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, (Suva: IPS Publications, 2007), 256. [9] Kwei-Bo Huang, “Taiwan’s foreign policy and international space,” in Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Taiwan, ed. Gunter Schubert, (New York: Routledge, 2016), 467. [10]Ibid, 468. [11]Jian Yang, The Pacific Islands in China’s Grand Strategy: Small States, Big Games (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 70. [12]Ibid, 71. [13]Ibid, 72. [14] Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon in Solomon Islands,” in China in Oceania: Reshaping the Pacific?, ed. Terence Wesley-Smith and Edgar A. Porter (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 133-134, 137. [15]Andrew Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously,” 530. [16]Tobias A. Haque, “The Influence of Culture on Economic Development in Solomon Islands,” State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper Australian National University, (2012): 10. [17]Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon,” 144. [18] Ibid. [19]Joel Atkinson, “Big Trouble in Little Chinatown: Australia, Taiwan and the April 2006 Post-Election Riot in Solomon Islands,” Pacific Affairs 82, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 49-50. [20]Ibid, 50. [21] Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon,” 145-146. [22]Ibid, 143. [23]Ibid, 144. [24]Jack Corbett and Terence Wood, “Profiling Politicians in Solomon Islands: Professionalisation of a Political Elite?” Australian Journal of Political Science 48, no. 3 (October 2013): 322. [25]Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, 218. [26]Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon,” 145. [27]Ibid. [28]Transform Aqorau, “Crisis in Solomon Islands: foraging for new directions,” in Politics and State Building in Solomon Islands, ed. Sinclair Dinnen and Stewart Firth (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2008), 247. [29]Ibid. [30]James Batley, “Constituency Development Funds in Solomon Islands: State of Play,” State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper Australian National University 67, (2015): 1. [31]Graeme Smith, “The wisdom of Solomons: Taiwan and China’s Pacific power play,” the interpreter, September 12, 2019, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/wisdom-solomons-taiwan-and-china-s-pacific-power-play. [32]Jon Fraenkel, “The Atrophied State: A supply-side perspective on politician ‘slush funds’ in western Melanesia,” in The Political Economy of Economic Reform in the Pacific, ed. Ron Duncan (Mandaluyong City: Asian Development Bank, 2011), 303-304. [33]Yang, China’s Grand Strategy, 68. [34]Julia Hollingsworth, “This Pacific Island province is so frustrated with China’s presence that it’s pushing for independence,” CNN, September 18, 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/17/asia/solomon-islands-malaita-intl-hnk-dst/index.html. [35]Ibid. [36] Aqorau, “Crisis in Solomon Islands,” 255. [37] Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon,” 146-147. [38]Hollingsworth, “Pushing for independence”. [39]Takashi Mita, “Changing Attitudes and the Two Chinas in the Republic of Palau,” in China in Oceania: Reshaping the Pacific?, ed. Terence Wesley-Smith and Edgar A. Porter (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 181. [40]Ibid. [41]Ibid, 188. [42]Ibid, 182. [43]Ibid, 182. [44]Tai-Yin Wu MD, Azeem Majeeed MD and, Ken N Kuo MD, “An overview of the healthcare system in Taiwan,” London Journal of Primary Care 3, no. 2 (2010): 115. [45]“Country Cooperation Strategy. 2018-2022,” World Health Organization, 2017, https://iris.wpro.who.int/handle/10665.1/13952. [46]“ROC doctors, nurses praised by Palau official for lifesaving surgery,” Taiwan Today, August 11, 2017. https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=2,6,10,15,18&post=119788. [47]“Palau remains free of COVID-19 as Taiwan experts arrive to assist,” Radio New Zealand, April 4, 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/413451/palau-remains-free-of-covid-19-as-taiwan-experts-arrive-to-assist. [48]Takashi Mita, “Changing Attitudes,” 186. [49]Ibid, 182. [50] Huang, “Taiwan’s foreign policy,” 474. [51]Terence Wesley-Smith, and Edgar A. Porter, “China and Taiwan in Oceania: Selected Documents,” in China in Oceania: Reshaping the Pacific? (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 211. [52]Ibid, 472. [53]Takashi Mita, “Changing Attitudes,” 187. [54]Ibid, 189-190. [55]Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously,” 525. [56]Roberta Rampton, “Exclusive: pence rebuffs Solomon Islands PM after nation cuts ties with Taiwan,” Reuters, September 18, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-diplomacy-pence-exclusive/exclusive-pence-rebuffs-solomon-islands-pm-after-nation-cuts-ties-with-taiwan-idUSKBN1W22WK. [57]Ibid. [58]Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, 256. [59]Yang, The Pacific Islands, 63. [60]Ibid. [61]Yang, The Pacific Islands, 65. [62]Ibid. [63] Wesley-Smith, and Porter, “Selected Documents,” 206-207. [64] “Solomon Islands,” The Observatory of Economic Complexity, accessed October 18, 2020, https://oec.world/en/profile/country/ocslb. [65] “Solomon Islands,” The Observatory of Economic Complexity. [66] Kabutaulaka, “Milking the Dragon,” 134. [67]Ibid, 147. [68] Moravcsik, “Taking Preferences Seriously,” 528. [69]“Solomon Islands,” The Observatory of Economic Complexity. [70]Bill Bainbridge, “Sogavare says Taiwan ‘useless’ to Solomon Islands,” ABC, September 11, 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/radio-australia/programs/pacificbeat/sols-china-sogavare/11499028. [71]Marc L. Busch and Eric Reinhardt, “Geography, International Trade, and Political Mobilization in U.S. Industries,” American Journal of Political Science, no. 4 (October 2000): 711-712. [72]Takashi, “Changing Attitudes,” 193. [73]Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, 223. [74]“Taiwanese diplomat hospitalised in Fiji after stows with Chinese,” Radio New Zealand, October 19, 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/428718/taiwanese-diplomat-hospitalised-in-fiji-after-stoush-with-chinese. [75]Hollingsworth, “Pushing for independence”. [76]Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, 258.

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