Somaliland and Taiwan. Both entities enjoy de facto independence but neither of them has received diplomatic recognition by most of the international community, let alone by their respective neighbors; Somalia and China, which are less democratic and claim sovereignty over both of them. Taiwan regards Somaliland as a springboard for getting into Sub-Saharan Africa. According to (Liban Yousuf Osman, 2021), Somaliland's Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Somaliland would one day turn into the "Horn of Africa's version of Taiwan" by imitating the latter's economic growth and development model.
As sometimes ignored proto-states within the global political dynamics, Somaliland and Taiwan brought a typical point of view and impressions to their diplomacy that great powers can't present. Instead of asserting its economic or political influence in Somaliland, Taiwan is a potential development partner that shares identical struggles with Somaliland and at the same time could offer technical support and capacity-building programs for the latter.
While developing their bilateral ties, both Somaliland and Taiwan have chances to improve their respective ability to self-conception and reassess the best way to form the image of self-ruling democratic beacons they spread to the world. This eventually brings up a chance to give more credibility to assumptions that both nations should doubt their position in the international community.
Historical Background and International Status of Somaliland and Taiwan
Somaliland, officially the Republic of Somaliland and located just south of the Gulf of Aden, declared its independence from Somalia when the Somali civil war erupted in 1991 upon the fall of Siad Barre's military regime. It successfully managed to maintain stability compared to the latter, but no UN member state has recognized it to date (AFP, 2020). Somaliland has a separate government, national currency, passport, police force, and armed forces from Mogadishu ones. Elections there have been held in a free and fair manner. Somaliland is internationally recognized as Somalia's autonomous region.
Many prominent analysts argue that the African Union (AU) would be the first to recognize Somaliland's independence. The 55-member continental bloc however worries that any potential recognition of the breakaway republic would encourage or boost the morale of other separatist movements in Africa to prove their right to self-determination. Despite this, many nations maintained representative offices and consulates in Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United Kingdom (UK).
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is de jure regarded by the People's Republic of China (PRC, a.k.a. China) as the latter's rebellious province after the Kuomintang (KMT)'s flight led by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949 to the former due to losing the civil war against the Communists. In 1971, the PRC replaced the ROC as China's representative to the United Nations. As of 2021, only 15 UN member states diplomatically recognize Taiwan, although many economic powers including the United States and Japan have economic/trade offices serving as de facto embassies in Taipei, Taiwan's capital to ensure their compliance with the One-China policy, which states that any country maintaining diplomatic relations with China can't do the same with Taiwan and vice versa.
In recent years, most of Taiwan's main allies/partners in Africa switched diplomatic recognition to China, leaving the Kingdom of Eswatini (before April 2018, Swaziland and known as "Africa's last absolute monarchy" currently rocked by pro-democracy protests) as the last African nation to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Playing an important role in this diplomatic coup is China's "checkbook diplomacy"; a strategy that includes pledges of financial assistance and investment worth billions of dollars by the East Asian economic giant.
Somaliland-Taiwan Bilateral Relations
Somaliland and Taiwan have had contacts and exchanges since 2009. The Government of Taiwan has announced a scholarship program for Somaliland's students who are interested to continue studies at Taiwan's top universities. Somaliland's five universities also received Taiwanese laptops via the United Arab Emirates (UAE) intermediaries in 2016 (Masai, 2016).
On June 16, 2021, Taiwanese Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu cut a medical cooperation deal with his Somaliland counterpart, Liban Yusuf Osman. Following the deal, Taiwan's team will carry out medical services and provide training for Somaliland health officers. According to (Wu, 2021), medical collaboration is a key part of Somaliland-Taiwan relations.
On October 3, 2021, Somaliland's Health Minister, Mohamed Ali received a batch of Taiwan-made oxygen generators in a ceremony as part of Taiwan's assistance in fighting the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. (Ali, 2021) added that Somaliland's healthcare system is progressing as a result of Taiwan's anti-Covid-19 assistance, which also includes donations of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medical masks, and thermal cyclers.
Mutual Opening of Representative Offices by Somaliland and Taiwan
On July 1, 2020, Taiwanese Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu announced Taiwan and Somaliland's eagerness to establish mutual representative offices. An agreement was concluded in secret to realize the representative offices' openings in February 2020 by both nations' respective foreign ministers (Shaban, 2021).
On August 17, 2020, Taiwan's Representative Office was officially inaugurated in Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital, albeit without the usual "Republic of China" designation and using the term "Taiwan" instead for the first time. The use of the former term in Taiwan's foreign affairs and policy is beginning its decrease as Taiwan has recently been trying to prove its fundamental differences vis-à-vis China in many ways as possible (Everington, 2020).
On September 9, 2020, Somaliland's Representative Office was officially inaugurated in Taipei. According to (Mohamed Hagi, 2020), the first envoy of Somaliland to Taiwan, the bilateral pact between Somaliland and Taiwan is based on the principles of democracy and liberty. He also suggests foreign direct investment by Taiwanese companies and entrepreneurs in Somaliland as he acknowledges the potential of Somaliland's untapped natural resources. Taiwan can also reap economic benefits from using the Port of Berbera.
It is overly premature to say if the newly-built amity between Somaliland and Taiwan would accelerate their pursuit for international recognition and make each other profit. Taiwan may guide Somaliland on the former's success in handling its diplomatic status. By following Taiwan's lead, Somaliland could obtain full-fledged membership in international organizations shortly, considering that Taiwan has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2002 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) since 1991.
The democratic principles shared by both nations have been emphasized frequently as the basis for their bilateral partnership through the speeches of the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. At a time when democratic backsliding is rife around the world, Somaliland and Taiwan hold out as obvious evidence that parliamentary governance can flourish even in authoritarian environments, through locally organized procedures backed by their respective societies.
While the notion of official recognition is appealing, it is not as necessary as many people are convinced. At last, the precise trait of the Somaliland-Taiwan relations is more significant than the formal ones that are usually considered a must. What signifies is the fervor of collaboration and the serious moves they will perform to enhance their partnership in the next few years. Likewise, Somaliland's geostrategically important location near the entrance to the Red Sea and its unexplored oil and gas reserves brings up the likelihood to encourage Taiwan to journey deeper into Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Author: Raynor Argaditya (Department of International Relations, UPN Veteran Jakarta)