By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia – In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony announced that, after a careful review of the situation, the government of St Lucia has decided to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to explore new avenues for mutual support and bilateral cooperation in the interest of both sides.
St Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony
“We have made it clear to the new ambassador that our future relationship with Taiwan must be based on respect for our laws, our traditions, culture and absolute non-interference in our domestic political affairs,” Anthony said, in reference to the alleged direct payment of millions of dollars to local politicians personally selected by former Taiwan Ambassador Tom Chou.
According to Anthony, “Diplomatic relations exist between countries and peoples, not between countries and political parties.”
“The clandestine manner in which diplomatic ties were established between Taiwan and Saint Lucia will be etched in all our minds for a long time. It remains one of the more sordid episodes in our political history. It has left many lingering questions for the state and for our citizens,” he added.
Anthony claimed that his government still cannot find any record of a formal agreement establishing bi-lateral relations with Taiwan, even though he said former Prime Minister Stephenson King makes mention of it in correspondence relating to the disbursement of Taiwanese funds.
Having won the last general elections, Anthony said a wide range of options was open to the new government.
“We could have immediately broken relations with Taiwan; we could have expelled Ambassador Chou with dispatch to Taipei; we could have stopped all Taiwanese funded projects in Saint Lucia; and we could have asked all Taiwanese functionaries on the island to go back home. However, we did none of those things. Instead, I repeatedly emphasized that we would not vulgarise our handling of diplomatic issues with Taiwan and would approach the issue of our future relations in a civilized way. Saint Lucia cannot look as if it is just prepared to jump from one side to another, after every general election, just for more largesse. We cannot behave as if our sovereignty is for sale to the highest bidder,” he explained.
However, within days of the new government being elected to office, the Taiwanese Foreign Minister paid a visit to Saint Lucia and Anthony said he made it clear that the Government of Saint Lucia would not work with Ambassador Chou but agreed to postpone the issue of Chou’s withdrawal until after the elections in Taiwan in January 2012.
At that time, the Taiwan foreign minister disclosed that his government would henceforth make available to the government of Saint Lucia, a sum of US$12 million or EC$ 32.6 million dollars annually for the funding of projects. This figure was later confirmed by the new ambassador.
“I have often said in opposition and repeated since my party returned to office, that this is a new era when we have to summon our courage and our common will to think and act differently. This view must also apply in the sphere of external relations. Our foreign policy has to be conducted in accordance with our growing needs in a quickly changing world. This is as much so for us, as it is for Taiwan,” Anthony said.
In the past few years, Taipei has had to undergo fundamental changes in its foreign policy and its relations with Beijing and indeed, the rest of the world. After 60 years of hostility across the straits that divide China and Taiwan, the two sides have, in the past four years, entered into an era of co-operation and peaceful co-existence and shared understanding. They have signed many bilateral agreements based on peaceful cooperation in everything, from trade to tourism, travel, science and technology. Under the current Taiwan government, China and Taiwan are rapidly building bridges across the straits that have hitherto divided them. Both sides have ceased traditional hostilities.
“We applaud them both,” he said.
“Saint Lucia, like Taiwan, cannot pretend that China does not exist. Nor can we escape the fact that China today is the world’s second most dominant economic power. It is forecasted that within the next decade, the economy of China may surpass that of the United States. Even without diplomatic relations, China’s trade, economic and commercial ties with Saint Lucia remain a fact of life. Like Taiwan has had to do, we have to find ways and means of engaging and re-engaging China in the interest of our country and our people. Our citizens, whether on business or vacation, will require visas to travel to China. We need to position ourselves to assist them when it becomes necessary. These issues have pre-occupied us over the past nine months,” Anthony continued.
He pointed out that the government of Saint Lucia has undertaken a Foreign Policy Review that will guide its relations with the rest of the world. This review will, in time, be made public, once it has completed its journey through the Cabinet of Ministers.
In respect of the issue of relations with Taiwan, the review concluded: “It is, in our view, an anomaly to perceive or present diplomatic recognition of Taiwan as an alternative to recognition of the PRC, a now global economic and political player.
“Any decision to maintain recognition of Taiwan will be perceived in the arenas of international diplomacy, and pre-eminently at the United Nations, as inevitably temporary, the result of specific contingent circumstances and objectives of the Saint Lucian state, and therefore subject to change and lacking final certainty.”
Anthony said that Saint Lucia clearly recognizes today’s global realities and is fully aware of the fact that, as the government of China has said, “the One-China principle is the political basis for the establishment of relations between China and Latin America and the Caribbean countries and regional organisations.”
“We recognise too that, in China’s language, ‘there is but one China.’ But we also recognise the present circumstances in which we have been placed over these last many years, and the necessity to move, not like a jack-in-the-box, jumping from one country to another every few years, but to follow the evolution of relations between China and Taiwan, and then to act accordingly,” he added.
“Against this background, the government of Saint Lucia has decided to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to explore new avenues for mutual support and bilateral cooperation in the interest of both sides,” Anthony said.
What then is the likely relationship with China?
“It is no secret that the Saint Lucia Labour Party has had historical and fraternal ties with the governing party in China over several years. The Saint Lucia Labour Party will maintain those ties. We simply cannot cast aside our friends,” Anthony said.
In that spirit, he continued, the Saint Lucia Labour Party has accepted an invitation to send, at the expense of the Chinese, a delegation of party officials to China to discuss issues of mutual interest to both parties. The delegation left the island over the weekend.
“This visit is without prejudice to our decision to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Chinese have been so advised. Apart from discussions on how best our fraternal party-to-party relations can be developed, the delegation will also discuss with our Chinese friends how best we can benefit from the new and positive ties being developed across the straits between China and Taiwan,” Anthony said.
He said that it would be both historic and helpful – indeed it would be perfect – if Saint Lucia could find a way to benefit from ties with both China and Taiwan, however defined. This is a dream many countries share and there has been no better time than now to engage China and Taiwan on this issue -- as it relates to Saint Lucia -- in the context of their increasing “cross straits” mutual cooperation and understanding.
In closing, Anthony referred to the concern expressed on several occasions by the Labour Party in opposition regarding the alleged payments made to UWP members of Parliament by the government of Taiwan and its agents upon the establishment of diplomatic relations and during the ensuing period.
“We expressed the view that in our judgment, such payments and procedures, if made, breached both the law and acknowledged parliamentary practices in the authorisation of use of the funds,” he said.
The government of Saint Lucia has engaged the services of Bob Lindquist, the senior partner in his international forensic accounting firm, to look at these alleged transactions. Lindquist will gather the relevant information to permit better knowledge of the events which transpired, and if necessary, Anthony said the government will take action in the spirit of good governance, justice and respect for the laws of Saint Lucia.
“This audit will go beyond the issue of Taiwanese funds. Further information will be provided on the other areas to be covered by the audit on a subsequent occasion, as this address is not the most appropriate forum in which to do so,” he explained.
He added that the government will also soon be in possession of a report conducted by a Cabinet-appointed review team, into the operations of the local councils, many of which were used as conduits for dispensing Taiwanese funds.
“This report will give all of us a better sense of how much money was dispensed by Ambassador Tom Chou to these councils and who utilised these funds and for what purposes,” Anthony concluded.