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China Turns up the Pressure on Eswatini to Abandon Taiwan

The tiny landlocked kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is now the last country in Africa to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This is a very big sticking point for the Chinese who are adamant about isolating Taiwan in Africa and elsewhere around the world.

The Taiwan issue remains highly contentious and among Beijing’s so-called “red line issues” that are among its most sensitive and important in its overall foreign policy agenda. Although not an independent country, Taiwan is nonetheless a thriving democracy that still retains diplomatic ties with 15 countries around the world. China, for its part, asserts that Taiwan is a renegade province that is inseparable from the Mainland. The Taiwan-China divide remains among the most contentious geopolitical issues in Asia and considered to be among Beijing’s highest foreign policy priorities.

South Africa was the last major African country to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing back in 1994. Since then, the Chinese managed to use the promise of lucrative investment contracts and massive infrastructure spending to lure the last remaining states over to its side, that is, except one.

Now it appears that the Chinese government is running out of patience with Eswatini and is turning up the pressure on the kingdom. Last month, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, published a sharply worded statement that clearly spelled out the consequences of Eswatini’s intransigence.

“No diplomatic relations, no business benefits,” said Ambassador Lin’s statement that concluded with a veiled threat to the kingdom’s plans to host an African Union summit later this year: “It is very hard for the friendly African countries of China to attend any AU summit hosted by a country refusing to recognize One China Principle and maintaining so-called “diplomatic ties” with Taiwan.”

The issue gained international notoriety soon after that statement was published when the South African newspaper Daily Maverick published a story by freelance journalist Carien du Plessis about the Chinese embassy’s efforts to pressure the Eswatini government. Similarly, the story is also being covered in Eswatini by Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu who interviewed Ambassador Lin recently about his statement.

Both journalists join Eric & Cobus to discuss Eswatini’s foreign policy and why the kingdom is seemingly adamant about its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Show Notes:

About Bheki Makhubu and Carien du Plessis:

Bheki Makhubu always wanted to be a journalist. His peers at St Christopher’s High School attest to the fact that he would never shy away from a good argument and developed his keen sense of political commentary at an early age.

It is not surprising to discover he was born and brought up in the home of one of Swaziland’s first indigenous journalists, Prince Makhubu, who worked for the Times of Swaziland and The Observer.

After completing school in the late 1980s, Makhubu joined the Times of Swaziland as a cub reporter in January 1988. He was soon promoted to the post of sports reporter and then became a sub-editor.

When the editor of the Times of Swaziland on Sunday resigned, Makhubu was appointed editor of the paper at the age of 23.

Carien du Plessis spent her student days at political rallies in South Africa right through the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Then, after an extended working holiday in London, Carien started working for newspapers full-time in 2003. She’s pretty much had her share of reporting on South African politics, attending gatherings and attracting trolls, but still finds herself attracted to it like a moth to a veld fire. Her ultimate ambition in life is to become a traveling chocolate writer of international fame.

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