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Malawi and the One China Policy: 1964–2008

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22.04.2019

As a consequence of losing the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), China was forced to hand over to the emerging Japanese Empire an island some 110 miles off its coast known as Taiwan (and referred to as ‘Formosa’ by Japan), as a concession. This was a transformative period in world affairs, and still more transformative times were ahead. In the midst of a civil war that came on the heels of the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1911) between the Kuomintang Party-ran government of the Republic of China and the 1921-formed Communist Party of China (with the People’s Liberation Army, founded in 1927, as its military wing), Japan decided to annex the northeast of mainland China in 1931 – though some debate rages as to whether this was an invasion of ‘China’ (as a unitary entity) or of ‘Manchuria’ as its own de facto independent entity, as the central government had a very limited reach in the northeast of China, which was ran by numerous military cliques (warlord groupings) at the time (Kissinger, 2012: 88). Nevertheless, both the Kuomintang government and the Communists interpreted this as an act of invasion and ceased hostilities and formed an alliance against Japan. On December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and thereby dragged the US into the conflict. This marked the opening of the Pacific front of World War II, which culminated in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attack which resulted in surrender by Japan and the effective end of the war in 1945.

With the common enemy gone, the Kuomintang and the Communists once again resumed their fighting for sole control of China. The end for the Kuomintang finally came on the 1st of October in 1949 with victory for the Communists and the declaration of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In some sense, however, this marked a new beginning for the Kuomintang as massive numbers among them, and particularly their leadership in the person of Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island of Taiwan. A planned invasion by the Communists was repelled by the presence of the United States, a firm ally to the anti-Communist Kuomintang, in the Pacific neighbourhood. Persistently, the Kuomintang proclaimed itself as still being the government of all Chinese peoples in both the island as well as on the mainland, and still ruling what they deemed the Republic of China from the island of Taiwan. The PRC claimed the same. Thus both entities claimed to be the ‘One China’ and began a process of competing for recognition among states in the international community. Bräutigam (2009: 22) observes that ‘while China has frequently emphasized the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, the “One China Policy” has remained the prominent exception to the rule. The absence of diplomatic ties with Taiwan is a precondition for any fruitful diplomatic relations with Beijing.’ Extreme measures have also been taken, as ‘numerous historical examples have shown that diplomatic ties are cut off and economic aid is suspended if a country establishes diplomatic ties with Taiwan.’ Initially, the US and its allies recognised Taiwan (whose leader had been a signatory to the UN Charter), as did a number of other states in the world, including some African states. A major shift came in 1971 when an Albania-initiated United Nations General Assembly resolution (Resolution 1668) to replace the ROC (which will be referred to as ‘Taiwan’ for the remainder of the article) with the PRC (which will be referred to as ‘China’ for the remainder of the article) as the representative of China passed.

Over the subsequent four to five decades, Taiwan has shed allies and recognisers (though the US remains an important military backer with no official recognition since 1979) and presently only has 17 formal diplomatic relations in the world, and only 1 in the African continent (the Kingdom of eSwatini). Since 2000 in particular, unlike the latter half of the twentieth century where there were many back-and-forth switches between the two Chinas, African countries have only switched in the direction of China – these countries have included Liberia, Chad, Senegal, the Gambia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Burkina Faso, and, as studied here, Malawi. Beijing has reportedly made overtures to eSwatini. Interestingly, many of these states were initially reached out to either through the platform of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), or reportedly by promises of foreign aid as well as, for the conflict-ridden countries (e.g. Liberia and Chad), assistance through the UN Security Council where China obtained a permanent seat in 1971. This went against the expectations of at least one scholar who had seen a twenty-first century setting favourable to Taiwan and observed that “many smaller nations side with the ROC (also a small nation) saying that its sovereignty should be protected against a larger aggressive nation. More important, they support the idea of self-determination and apply that........

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