Shifting alliances: Nauru’s diplomatic realignment from Taiwan to China

In an official statement, the government of Nauru declared that it will no longer acknowledge Taiwan as an independent nation but rather as an integral part of China’s territory. The release emphasized that this decision, deemed to be in the best interests of Nauru and its citizens, is accompanied by the pursuit of the complete restoration of diplomatic relations with China.

Nauru, a Pacific Island nation, has announced a shift in its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China. This decision, coming after Taiwan’s presidential elections, represents the first instance of a diplomatic ally switching sides. As a result, Taiwan is now left with 11 remaining countries and maintains ties only with the Vatican. Among these, seven are located in Latin America and the Caribbean, three in the Pacific Islands, and one in Africa.

In an official statement, the government of Nauru declared that it will no longer acknowledge Taiwan as an independent nation but as an integral part of China’s territory. The release emphasized that this decision, deemed to be in the best interests of Nauru and its citizens, is accompanied by the pursuit of the complete restoration of diplomatic relations with China.

The official statement from the Republic of Nauru also clarifies that it will cease recognizing the Republic of China (Taiwan) as an independent nation. Instead, it will consider Taiwan as an inseparable part of China’s territory. Furthermore, Nauru declares the termination of diplomatic relations with Taiwan effective immediately, indicating the discontinuation of any official relations or exchanges with Taiwan.

The timing of Nauru’s announcement is notable, occurring just two days after Taiwan’s election of a new president. The newly elected leader, affiliated with the Democratic Progressive Party, is characterized by China as a separatist due to the party’s stance on maintaining a status quo where Taiwan operates with its government and remains distinct from China. This ideological difference may have influenced Nauru’s decision to shift its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

HISTORY OF NAURU-TAIWAN RELATIONS

In 1980, Nauru officially established relations with Taiwan. However, in 2002, under the leadership of Rene Harris, the Nauruan government switched its allegiance to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and adopted the One China Policy. This move led Taiwan to sever ties with Nauru, accusing the PRC of influencing the decision with financial aid exceeding €90,000,000. Reports suggested that Beijing managed to prevent Nauru from reverting to Taiwan by providing a substantial loan to the financially struggling Nauruan government.

In 2003, Nauru closed its newly established embassy in Beijing. Two years later, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian held a meeting with Nauruan President Ludwig Scotty in the Marshall Islands. Political relations between Taiwan and Nauru were re-established in May 2005, leading to the opening of embassies in each other’s capitals. In response, China severed its relations with Nauru.

Taiwan, along with Australia, is one of Nauru’s primary economic aid partners. In return for support, Nauru used its United Nations seat to advocate for Taiwan’s admission. Additionally, Taiwan has been actively providing regular medical assistance to Nauru, including sending specialized doctors to the country’s sole hospital.

In 2007, Ludwig Scotty secured re-election amid allegations that Taiwan financially supported his campaign. Critics labelled these foreign funds as potential bribes, while Scotty defended the support, asserting that the funds were directed toward the welfare of the people. During Scotty’s leadership, on March 7, 2007, Nauru appointed its first ambassador to Taiwan, Ludwig Keke, who presented his credentials to President Ma Ying-jeou. Scotty was succeeded by Marcus Stephen in December 2007.

After Stephen’s election, President Chen of Taiwan congratulated him, pledging ongoing assistance and seeking continued support from Nauru while extending an invitation for a visit to Taiwan.

Nauru remained a focal point of rivalry between Beijing and Taipei. In 2006, President Scotty reportedly faced pressure from Chinese officials attempting to divert him to Beijing while boarding a plane bound for Taipei.

Leaked cables in 2011 disclosed that Taiwan had been providing a “monthly stipend” to Nauruan government ministers in exchange for their ongoing support, along with a smaller sum to other parliament members under the guise of “project funding that requires minimal accounting.” Reports indicated that some officials used these funds for various purposes, such as buying breakfast for schoolchildren. The leaks also suggested that figures like President Marcus Stephen, Foreign Minister Kieren Keke, and former President Ludwig Scotty had received undisclosed funding from Taiwan. Additionally, the cables revealed attempts by Chinese agents to influence Nauru’s elections through cash payments to voters, with a reported distribution of at least $40,000 in one instance in 2007.

The leaked cables also uncovered that Australia had, at a certain point, actively encouraged Nauru to sever its ties with Taiwan and establish relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) instead. President Scotty resisted this pressure, asserting that such decisions were “none of Australia’s business.”

Later in 2011, Taiwan significantly increased its health aid to Nauru, including the provision of a resident medical team appointed for a five-year term.

In 2018, a diplomatic dispute arose between the PRC and Nauru during the Pacific Islands Forum. Nauru implemented a distinctive approach by stamping entry visas exclusively on the personal passports of Mainland diplomats rather than diplomatic passports, leading to tensions between the two nations.

The history between Nauru and Taiwan has witnessed several shifts. Initially, relations were severed in 2003 when Nauru decided to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, in 2005, formal bilateral relations with Nauru were reestablished. These relations persisted until 2024, marking a notable period of engagement between the two nations.

TAIWAN’S RESPONSE

The recent presidential election in Taiwan resulted in the victory of pro-sovereignty candidate William Lai. Beijing has criticized Lai as a “troublemaker” due to his past statements supporting Taiwanese independence, which China considers a sensitive issue. Following Lai’s election, the government of Nauru, in what appears to be a response, announced that it would no longer recognize Taiwan as a separate country but rather as an integral part of China’s territory. Taiwanese officials characterized this move as both China’s retaliation against their democratic elections and a direct challenge to the established international order.

During a media conference on Monday, Taipei’s deputy foreign minister, Tien Chung-kwang, accused China of exploiting recent “political fluctuations” in Nauru by providing financial aid to sway the country’s allegiance. Tien asserted that China’s attempts to use economic means to suppress Taiwan would prove unsuccessful. He highlighted Taiwan’s democratic development, stating that the international community has taken notice. Tien warned that if Beijing continues employing such tactics to undermine Taiwan’s diplomatic relations, democratic nations worldwide would not recognize such actions. Despite this, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains “on strong alert” to counter any further moves by China aimed at isolating Taiwan on the international stage. Tien, expressed disappointment, stating that at a time when democracies globally are applauding Taiwan’s successful election, Beijing has opted to suppress Taiwan. Tien characterized this move as retaliation against democratic values and a direct challenge to the established international order. Taipei urged Beijing to cease confrontation and adhere to international norms.

CHINA

China has expressed its welcome for Nauru’s decision to sever ties with Taiwan. A spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry stated, “As a sovereign and independent nation, Nauru has announced… that it has severed its so-called ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan and is willing to restore relations with China.” The spokesperson further emphasized that Nauru’s move to resume diplomatic ties with China reaffirms the One China Principle, suggesting that this principle aligns with the sentiments of the people and corresponds with the prevailing global trend. China has expressed its willingness to open a new chapter in bilateral ties with Nauru based on the principle of One China.

The possibility of Nauru shifting its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China has been anticipated for some time. China has consistently sought to diminish Taiwan’s influence, particularly in the Pacific region, where numerous small nations are actively seeking developmental opportunities. With Taiwan having fewer diplomatic allies globally, each alliance holds increased significance in reinforcing its claim to sovereignty. The ongoing trend of China seeking opportunities to undermine Taiwan’s diplomatic standing is likely to continue, given the strategic importance placed on these alliances.