The Pacific islands’ relationship with Taiwan is back in the news. Last January I discussed several articles on Taiwan’s diplomatic initiatives in the South Seas. I cited one piece which said:

Following destructive riots in the Solomons capital Honiara in April, the Australian and New Zealand governments criticised the Taiwanese government for engaging in chequebook diplomacy in the Pacific to win diplomatic recognition from small island nations.

Other articles often gave the same impression — this long blog post, for example, Mary-Anne Toy’s piece on Taiwan….

Taiwan and China’s influence-buying in the region can undermine governance and encourage corruption and instability. Australia and New Zealand have told the rivals to stop the chequebook diplomacy to buy the allegiance of countries. Rioting in the Solomon Islands last year, which sparked Australia’s billion-dollar RAMSI intervention, was blamed on Taiwan and China backing rival political factions in a tussle over whether the tiny nation continued to recognise Taiwan or to switch allegiance to China.

…and so, the complainers got their wish this week when President-Elect Ma promised to end chequebook diplomacy in the Pacific — and immediately there were dark warnings (Oh yeah, it means cash for the region….):

Associate Professor Bill Hodge, a Pacific specialist at the University of Auckland, on Thursday said a pledge by Taiwan’s president-elect Ma Ying-jeou to immediately end chequebook diplomacy could harm fragile Pacific countries that rely on the money.

“It is an ominous sign for the economies and on government spending in these countries. In some, 80 to 90 per cent of the GDP is some sort of government spending,” he said.

However, Australia’s official position has not changed. Former Aussie FM Downer said that all that bribery is undermining efforts to stamp out corruption in the region. I guess it was kinda like the way that paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein in the oil-for-food/Iraq scandal at the Australian Wheat Board undermined anti-corruption efforts in the Middle East. The article noted:

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith this week said chequebook diplomacy was not a sensible way to proceed, and Australia’s position had been made clear to a number of governments.

A US Congressional report last year said Taiwan gave about $US10 million ($A10.9 million) in aid to the Marshall Islands annually, and since 1999 had given about $US100 million ($A108.7 million) in aid to Palau.

In 2006, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged $US375 million ($A407.7 million) in development assistance and low interest loans to Pacific countries.

This week, it was alleged that Fiji offered support to China’s crackdown in Tibet because it recently secured a $F170 million ($A125 million) loan from the Chinese government to develop roads.

The Marianas paper offers another view, including a promotion of our President-Elect to PhD status:

Former Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says the election of a new president in Taiwan could benefit the Australia-led assistance mission in Solomon Islands.

Downer is in Taipei as part of an international parliamentary delegation to observe the island nation’s presidential election.

Taiwan maintains direct diplomatic ties with Solomon Islands but its aid and grant programs have come under strong criticism from Canberra.

Radio Australia quotes Downer as saying that president elect Dr. Ma Ying-Jeou has told him he wants to deal with Taipei’s “checkbook” diplomacy.

Downer said under the Chen Shui-bian administration, there had been a lot of Taiwanese checkbook diplomacy in the Solomon Islands.

A Solomons paper was far more blunt:

Former Foreign Minister of Australia Alexander Downer’s comments that Taiwan deals with Solomon Islands on the basis of cheque book diplomacy are very unfortunate, says Prime Minister Dr Derek Sikua.

Dr Sikua said Mr Downer’s comments demonstrated his continued lack of respect for the sovereign affairs of island conuntries in the region including Solomon Islands.

“The bilateral relations between the Republic of China on Taiwan and Solomon Islands are based on mutual respect, understanding and genuine partnership and not cheque book diplomacy,” he said.

He said Taiwan’s funding assistance to Solomon Islands is geared towards the development aspirations of the government and people of Solomon Islands.

Of course, the reason The Beautiful Island has to engage in such noxious diplomatic practices is because we don’t get the public support we need from the democracies like Australia.