World Asia Pacific First Look

After $40 billion pledge from China, Nigeria tells Taiwan's capital office to pack its bags

With only 22 allied states worldwide, Taiwan faces increasing isolation as China pulls economic levers in Africa and elsewhere.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 file photo, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, left, is welcomed by Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria. Taiwan is protesting against Nigeria's demand that it relocate its trade office, following a visit by China's foreign minister and a promise of $40 billion in investment.
Azeez Akunleyan/ AP
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On Wednesday, as China's foreign minister visited with a promise to invest another $40 billion in the country, Nigeria asked Taiwanese trade officials to move their representative office from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to Lagos, the commercial hub.

Nigeria's request reiterated its support for Beijing's "One China" policy, which demands that countries break official relations with Taiwan, as Beijing pulls economic levers in Africa and elsewhere to woo nations away from the island it regards as rebel-held territory within Chinese borders. And since the US presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump has heightened tensions between the US and China by suggesting that his administration could reconsider nearly four decades of American support for "One China" – a provocation that some analysts say has spurred China's recent actions.

"The foreign ministry seriously objects and condemns the unreasonable actions by the Nigerian government," Taiwan said Thursday in a statement urging Nigeria to reconsider its decision.

After meeting Wednesday with his Chinese counterpart, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said Taiwan would have no diplomatic representation whatsoever in Nigeria and that "a trade mission with a skeletal staff" would operate in Lagos, as state news agency NAN reported.

Nigeria would not be the first nation in recent weeks to snub Taiwan after meeting with Chinese officials. São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, decided last month to cut diplomatic ties with the island – an act Taiwan condemned as an "abrupt and unfriendly decision."

By switching its diplomatic recognition to China, São Tomé and Príncipe left only two formal Taiwan allies in Africa. Globally, just 22 states formally recognize Taiwan.

Wang Kao-cheng, the dean of the Tamkang University College of International Studies in Taiwan, said Mr. Trump's comments on the "One China" policy – and other recent changes to the trilateral relationship among Taiwan, the US, and China – might have triggered Beijing's efforts in São Tomé and Príncipe, as The Taipei Times reported.

Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul and self-described dealmaker, recently spoke of US-China relations in business terms.

"I fully understand the 'One China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'One China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," he told "Fox News Sunday" last month, as Reuters reports.

If he pushes too hard or too far, however, Trump's words and deeds could lead to a military confrontation, some US analysts warned.

"China is more likely to let the whole relationship with the United States deteriorate in order to show its resolve on the Taiwan issue," Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert in Chinese nationalism, told Reuters. "When the decision to end a decades-long practice is made with so little warning and clear communication, it raises the likelihood of misunderstanding and miscalculation and sets the stage for a crisis between the United States and China over Taiwan."

As a gesture of military might just this week, China sailed its sole aircraft carrier Wednesday through the Taiwan Strait.

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial that the "One China" policy is nonnegotiable and that Trump was "naive like a child on diplomacy" for suggesting otherwise, as Reuters reported. The paper said the Chinese mainland would launch "decisive new policies toward Taiwan" in due time.

"We will prove," it said, "that all along the United States has been unable to dominate the Taiwan Strait and Trump's desire to sell the 'one China' policy for commercial interests is a childish urge."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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