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Taiwan trade office and Nigeria’s foreign policy

By CHARLES ONUNAIJU

Since about three months, when Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs 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 skeletal staff”, the Taiwan trade office has continued to stay put in Abuja, in flagrant disobedience of the Federal Government’s directive. Its only semblance of respect of the directive was the reported removal of its name from the building from which it operates in Abuja.

The Taiwan trade mission knows that its presence in Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital, fuels the confusion about its status, which is sometimes mistaken in the media as a diplomatic mission. The mission is holding on to its presence in Abuja because the confusion this creates suits the wish 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 relations 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 an inalienable part of China and the government in Beijing is the sole and legitimate government of the people of China.

Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs 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 as 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 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 People 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 Nigerian government 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  an affront to  Nigeria’s authority 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, with which Nigeria has diplomatic relationship. Nigeria fought a savage three-year civil war to protect its 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’s intransigence on flaunting the directive of a properly constituted authority in Nigeria will nourish the vehemence of 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 Affairs Minister, Mr. Wang Yi, to Abuja, last January, the Taiwan authorities released a 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 relations with Taiwan, other than mere trade, a relation that Nigeria’s many state authorities have enjoyed with foreign countries that Nigeria has diplomatic relations with. 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”.

Onunaiju is the director, Centre for China Studies (CCS) Utako, Abuja.

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