Impunity of Taiwan trade office and trial of Nigeria foreign policy
By Charles Onunaiju
Since about three months, when Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyema, unequivocally declared that “Taiwan will not have any diplomatic representation in Nigeria”, and pointedly urged the Taiwan trade office in Abuja to move to Lagos and “function as a trade mission with a skeletal staff”, the Taiwan trade office has continued to stay put in Abuja, in flagrant disobedience of the federal government directive. Its only semblance of the respect of the directive was the reported removal of its name from the building from which it operates in Abuja.
The Taiwan trade mission which knows that its presence in Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital fuel the confusion about its status, which is sometimes mistaken in the media as diplomatic mission, has the ulterior purpose to hold on with impunity on its presence in Abuja because the confusion suits the ambiguities of the current Taiwan leadership to undermine the 1992 consensus between the Chinese mainland and its Island of Taiwan to uphold “one – China” principle.
For the purpose of clarity, Taiwan has never enjoyed any other status in Nigeria, except as a trade mission based on the memoranda of understanding (MOU) with the former federal ministry of commerce in 1990. Since the establishment of diplomatic relation between Nigeria and the Peoples Republic of China in 1971, it has been based on the acknowledgement of “One China” principle, for which Nigeria has properly and duly formulated its “One China policy” which upholds that there is only “One China” in the world, that Taiwan is inalienable part of China and the government in Beijing is the sole and legitimate government of the people of China.
Nigeria’s foreign minister Mr. Geoffrey Onyema affirmed this stance, while directing the Taiwan trade mission to immediately relocate to Lagos. He said that “Taiwan is not a country that is recognized under international law and under the position, we have taken internationally, we recognize the People’s Republic of China”, and added that “Chinese government does not oppose trading with Taiwan as long there is no formal contact with the government that will suggest recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign country”.
To this extent, the directive of the federal government to the trade mission of Taiwan to immediately relocate its office to Lagos is not a break in any “diplomatic” relation, because no diplomatic relations ever existed between Nigeria and the China’s region of Taiwan. The Taiwan issue is a remnant of China’s own internal history for which the country is finding a solution and settlement. The few hotheads of the Taiwan leadership that seek “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” against the popular sentiments of Chinese islanders and mainlanders to realize national re-unification are analogous to the separatist campaigns of the Indigenous peoples of Biafra, (IPOB) to dismember Nigeria and undermine her sovereignty. The behaviour of the Taiwan trade office in Nigeria to spurn ambiguities about its real status as a trade office mirrors the deliberate fudge, which the current Taiwan leadership weaves at home about its stance on the clearly worded 1992 consensus. However, president XI Jinping has unambiguously pointed out that the Taiwan issue “will not be handed down from one generation to the other”, meaning there must be an end to the circus show which the Taiwan leadership would want to make of the Taiwan issue.
However, the Nigeria authority must never allow the integrity of its “One China policy” to be ridiculed, through the impunity and vehemence of the Taiwan trade mission in Abuja. And to this end, the federal government must follow up its firm and unambiguous directive for the trade office to immediately relocate to Lagos and operate from there with “skeletal staff”, suitable for a trade office. For a country like Nigeria, that aspires to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, when the restructuring of the UN happens, as it must, its directives, which must be well thought out, cannot be empty and of no effect. For the Taiwan trade mission to continue to maintain its office in Abuja, under whatever guise is affront on the integrity of Nigeria sovereign status to exercise exclusive prerogative on its internal and external policy. It is doubtful if Nigeria would tolerate for even a day, for the Movement of the Sovereign State of Biafra, (MASSOB) a separatist organization seeking the separation of the South East region from Nigeria, to open an office in Beijing or any other capital of a country, which Nigeria has a normal diplomatic relation. Nigeria fought a savage three year civil war to protect her sovereignty and ensure its territorial integrity and therefore the mentality of the current Taiwan leadership which is mirrored by the behaviour of its trade mission in Nigeria, is the exact script of separatist insurgency which Nigeria fought to a standstill to achieve national reunification. The echoes of the Taiwan trade mission intransigency on flaunting the directive of a properly Nigerian constituted authority will nourish the vehemence of the pockets of Nigeria’s own separatist subversions.
Soon, after the reaffirmation of the One China policy of the federal government during the visit of China’s foreign minister, Mr. Wang Yi to Abuja, last January, the Taiwan authorities released statement allegedly suggesting that Nigeria has succumbed to the pressure of Beijing, thereby perpetuating the confusion they would like to see, that Nigeria has had any other relation with Taiwan, other than mere trade, a relation that Nigeria’s many state authorities have enjoyed with foreign countries that Nigeria has diplomatic relations. However, the effrontery of the Taiwan authorities to imply that Nigeria has succumbed to pressure in reaffirming her One China policy removes any smokescreen of the purpose and intent of their trade mission in Nigeria’s political capital, ostensibly to undermine one of Nigeria’s core foreign policy initiatives, the “One China policy”.
The issue of the Taiwan trade mission cannot be allowed to remain a perpetual drag in Nigeria’s foreign policy, especially in the strand of the mutually beneficial bilateral co-operation between Nigeria and China. The relevant Nigeria authorities must ensure that the recurring issue is laid to rest by the relocation of the Taiwan trade mission to Nigeria’s foremost trade and commercial capital, Lagos and as well maintaining a staff strength commensurate to promoting trade between Nigeria and China’s region of Taiwan.
At a press conference early this month, during the 5th session of China’s 12th National People’s Congress, in Beijing, Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi said among other things that “China and Africa are a close-knit community with a shared future”. Continuing he said, “our cooperation is mutual help between two brothers and no matter how the international situation or the world economy may evolve; there will be no weakening of China support for Africa’.
As Nigeria navigates through her economic structural reforms, China, according to the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo is formidably “a reliable partner”, providing the key support of strategic infrastructure and industrial capacity co-operation.
As the issue of the Taiwan trade mission is a mere distraction to Nigeria – China strategic and comprehensive cooperative partnership, the Nigeria relevant authorities must match their directives with concerted action to lay the issue to rest once and for all.
Mr. Onunaiju, is the director, Center for China Studies (CCS) Utako, Abuja.