As I wandered around RT Mart yesterday observing the vast quantities of chocolate now available even in totally localized grocery chains, I realized that the American pachydermal physique may well be The Shape of Things to Come. It will be good not to be alone… speaking of expansion (and aloneness), the defection of the speaker of the Marshall Islands parliament to the opposition party made news here because of his comments on doing so….

The sudden defection of the Marshall Islands speaker to the opposition ahead of national elections has fuelled speculation in the central Pacific nation about the future of its ties with Taiwan.

Two days ahead of Monday’s vote, Speaker Litokwa Tomeing said the Marshall Islands had “wronged” China by recognising Taiwan in 1998 and it was time to “fix this problem by adopting a one-China policy.”

The Marshall Islands, with a population of 60,000, is one of just 24 countries that formally recognise Taiwan, which China considers a rebel province awaiting reunification.

China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it declares formal independence.

Tomeing had been the Marshall’s parliamentary speaker for eight years since the United Democratic Party (UDP) of President Kessai Note won control of the government from former president and paramount chief Imata Kabua.

However, when he defected a week ago saying the UDP had not lived up to its promises of reform he reduced Note to just a two-vote majority going into Monday’s election.

Tomeing’s push for a rollback to diplomatic ties with China follows his trip to Beijing last week and a trip by four leading opposition MPs to China last month.

The opposition group included Senator Tony deBrum, the architect of the Marshalls’ shift to Taiwan in 1998 when he was finance minister in a previous government.

DeBrum has declined detailed comment about the reasons for his China visit saying only that it was a “fact finding visit” and he would address the issue after the election.

The Marshall Islands business community strongly supports ties with Taiwan in large part because Taiwan funding goes directly to hiring local construction contractors and their workers, circulating money in the economy.

Chinese money at work? Does this case highlight a trend for increasing isolation of Taiwan by China?

I think not. Look at Jinmen and Matsu, as well as the loot in the National Palace Museum. Although Jinmen and Matsu are indisputably Chinese territory and could easily be grabbed by China, China has never taken them. Similarly, the loot in the National Palace Museum is indisputably Chinese and has nothing to do with Taiwan, but Beijing has never demanded that back. Why?

The answer is simple. If Jinmen and Matsu return, then Taiwan has no connection, no overlap, with China at all. Ditto for the National Palace Museum — it is a concrete reminder that Taiwan and China are supposedly connected. If Taiwan loses those things, it has no connection China — it is isolated. This simply makes the “annexation vs independence” debate sharper — while tends=ing to stress the independence of Taiwan. Of course, those islanders in Jinmen and Matsu are 100% KMT. Keeping them in the Taiwan polity brings benefits for the pro-China parties.

Consider Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. During the period of KMT rule, Taiwan shed recognition right and left. During the DPP period, there has been a steady leak, but nothing like the collapse under the KMT. Taiwan is now recognized (as China!) by only 24 countries, all small and impotent. China could, with a combination of cash and muscle, easily push those small countries away from Taiwan. Why doesn’t it? Same reason: because as long as someone recognizes the ROC as Taiwan and as China, Taiwan and China are still connected. Once China cuts away all recognition, Taiwan is once again confronted with the stark annexation vs. independence choice, a choice that inevitably favors independence. Hence, the best solution for China is to restrict recognition of Taiwan to a handful of impotent nations, preserving that virtual state, the ROC, whose twilight existence serves the needs of both the pro-democracy and pro-China sides of the cross-strait conflict…..