Shopkeepers in Port Vila, the capital of the small South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, have been rubbing their hands in glee of late, and all because the never-ending tussle for diplomatic recognition between Beijing and Taipei. Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Serge Vohor, in November made a 'secret' trip to Taiwan to sign an agreement opening diplomatic ties with Taiwan. He returned home to an uproar from the Opposition party and a number of his own party members, who want Vanuatu to continue to stand by the 'One China' policy and recognition of the Beijing government as the rightful ruler of China.
A week later, according to a Pacific News Service report, "Politicians, along with family members and associates, began walking into shops in Port Vila to buy goods ranging from food to electrical appliances with wads of US$100 bills." While one Vanuatu official claimed this was "rubbish," many sources agreed the only possible source of the windfall was Taiwan.
The diplomatic skirmish continued, with a motion of no-confidence being put by the Opposition in parliament December 2. At the end of the day, the motion was shelved by the Speaker who called the move unconstitutional, but by then 17 government members had crossed the floor of the House – going over to the 'One China' side.
And it's not just the Chinese who are pushing to keep Vanuatu on Beijing's side – Australia is apparently willing to go to bat on their behalf as well, sending high level officials to government offices threatening all sorts of repercussions if a diplomatic switch is made.
These reports are borne out by a Taiwanese diplomat in the Marshall Islands who, off the record, said the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, was threatened by Australian officials who warned him that aid would be cut off to that country if they booted Beijing out. Tong apparently didn't care and Taipei's flag replaced Beijing's flag in early 2004.
Taiwan currently has diplomatic relations with 26 countries, not counting Vanuatu. In return for their diplomacy dollars, of which there are many millions, Taipei expects these countries to vote for them in the United Nations. As the Taiwanese official put it, "We don't want the world to forget about us."
While China continues its relentless battle to diplomatically isolate Taipei, Taiwan-Mainland relations only tighten further, ironically enough. Inward investment from Taiwan has risen to the point where over half (53%) of the island's total outside investment goes to the Chinese Mainland, investments that now account for billions of dollars in cross-strait trade.
Meanwhile, China and Taiwan continue their global fight for diplomatic relations. So who wins? Port Vila supermarkets, it appears.