China turns up the pressure on Eswatini to abandon Taiwan

Podcast

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.

Taiwan is a “red line” for Beijing — one of the most sensitive and important issues in its foreign policy agenda. Although Beijing does not recognize it as 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. 

South Africa was the last major African country to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing back in 1994. Since then, the Chinese have managed to use the promise of lucrative investment contracts and massive infrastructure spending to lure the last remaining states over to its side. All, 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, the Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Lín Sōngtiān 林松添, 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, which 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 the 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 about the Chinese embassy’s efforts to pressure the Eswatini government. The story is also being covered in Eswatini by Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu, who interviewed Ambassador Lin recently about his statement.

Makhubu and journalist Carien du Plessis join Eric and Cobus to discuss Eswatini’s foreign policy and why the kingdom seems adamant about retaining its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.