A picture is worth a thousand words is a fact that has found its reflection from a Beijing-datelined photograph headlined “Panama switches to China” carried by this newspaper the other day. It shows, for example, a highly confident Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, and a profusely jubilant Panamanian vice-president and foreign minister, Isabel de Saint Malo, with their documents after they sign a joint communiqu� on establishing diplomatic relations earlier this week. China and Panama have announced they are establishing diplomatic relations as the Central American nation becomes the latest to dump Taiwan for closer ties with the world’s second largest economy. There could be many ways to interpret this development. According to Carl Thayer, a professor emeritus of politics at the UNSW Canberra college in Australia, Panama is the latest country to cut ties with Taiwan and it is unlikely to be the last. He also says that that the change represents a longer-term trend of “atomic decay where the circle of countries that recognize Taiwan one by one seems to be shifting to the mainland.”
Taiwan is recognized by around 20 countries world-wide. It is plausibly argued by many analysts that the inexorable rise of China has helped Beijing to project the sensitivity of the issue in a highly effective and meaningful manner. It has been successfully pressuring trading partners to accept its “One China” policy. Panama, after siding with Taiwan over its status for several decades, too has succumbed to China’s commercial and economic might. It has, at last, declared that it recognizes that there is only one China in the world and that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory.
Panama has fully embraced the economic reality that stems from the facts that Chinese ships, after those from the US, are the number two users of the Panama Canal and China has already begun construction of a container port, with natural gas facilities, in one of Panama’s provinces. It is needless to say that the Panama Canal is the principal source of revenue for this Central American nation.
The rising economic might of China has forced many “One China” sceptics to rethink their approach to China. The present situation hardly leaves any country with an option to freely employ caveats in its recognition of Beijing’s “One China” principle. Even the US is finding it quite difficult to help Taiwan create more international living space for itself. Washington is fully mindful of the enormity of challenges its policy of deliberate ambiguity in relation to Taiwan has created for it. It is also finding it difficult to rephrase or rearticulate its policy with any meaningful assertion that Washington does not preclude the US leadership from following the Taiwan Relations Act, nor for example, does it preclude them from the strong economic relationship that it enjoys with Taiwan.
That China is expanding its soft power image is a fact. The One Road One Belt project has provided China with a new opportunity to reach out to various nations of the world in a highly effective and meaningful manner. There is therefore no doubt about the fact that many more from those 20 nations will be dumping Taiwan for China as Beijing expands its economic sphere of influence in all nooks and corners of this planet in the coming months and years. From China’s perspective, perhaps, the South China Sea conflict pressure seems to have been eased off by the launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which has provided Beijing a quasi-alternative land access to a port in the Arabian Sea.