Cablegate Vanuatu | Taiwan confident over Vanuatu switch

This is the first of a new series—Cablegate Vanuatu—that we will be publishing here on Vanuatu Daily Digest.  The Cablegate leak, a.k.a. the United States diplomatic cables leak, began in February 2010 when WikiLeaks—a non-profit organization that publishes submissions from anonymous whistleblowers—began releasing 251,287 classified cables that had been sent to the U.S. State Department by 274 of its consulates, embassies, and diplomatic missions around the world. Dated between December 1966 and February 2010, the cables contain diplomatic analysis from world leaders, and the diplomats’ assessment of host countries and their officials. As a service to the Vanuatu public, we will publish selected cables of interest about Vanuatu and its leaders.

Key quote from this cable:

the personalized nature of the deal raises questions about whether the new Taiwan-Vanuatu relationship is sustainable. Even if Vohor succeeds in bringing his cabinet around, it is far from certain whether Vanuatu will switch back to Beijing once more after he leaves the political arena.  Equally unclear is whether Taiwan’s own legislature will be willing to underwrite once again Taiwan’s dollar diplomacy, especially if it turns out that money is going into Vohor’s personal bank account rather than legitimate development projects.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04TAIPEI3522 2004-11-08 22:20 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL American Institute Taiwan, Taipei
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 003522 

SIPDIS 

CONFIDENTIAL 

SIPDIS 

STATE PASS TO AIT/W 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/07/2014 
TAGS: PREL EAID TW CH NH
SUBJECT: TAIWAN CONFIDENT OVER VANUATU SWITCH 

Classified By: AIT Acting Director David Keegan; Reasons: 1.5 (B/D) 

1.  (C) Summary.  MOFA officials say they are certain that 
the Vanuatu government will formalize the switch in 
recognition from Beijing to Taipei announced by Prime 
Minister Serge Vohor and Foreign Minister Mark Chen on 
November 3 in Taipei.  Taiwan officials acknowledge that 
Vohor's decision does not yet have the formal blessing of his 
cabinet, but say that Vohor assured Taiwan that he will bring 
his cabinet in line after his return home.  MOFA officials 
said that they expect Beijing to try to convince Vanuatu 
cabinet members to reject the change in diplomatic ties, but 
officials expressed confidence that Vohor's decision would 
stand.  MOFA has declined to specify the amount of aid that 
was promised to Vanuatu in exchange for recognition, but 
Vohor's spokesman claimed that Taipei offered $28 million 
with no strings attached.  End summary. 

Surprise Announcement in Taipei 
------------------------------- 

2.  (C) Taiwan Foreign Minister Mark Chen and Vanuatu Prime 
Minister Serge Vohor announced on November 3 the 
establishment of diplomatic relations between the "Republic 
of China" and Vanuatu.  MOFA officials told AIT that Vohor 
secretly arrived in Taipei on November 2 to finalize the SIPDIS 
deal.  During a meeting with Vohor, President Chen Shui-bian 
hailed the opening of relations between the "Republic of 
China" and Vanuatu after 20 years of hard work.  He said the 
"ROC" and Vanuatu are both "oceanic nations" and will work to 
expand cooperation in the fisheries sector.  Vohor said that 
Vanuatu will use its voice in various international 
organizations "to help Taiwan gain recognition as a sovereign 
country." 

Confusion Reigns After Announcement 
----------------------------------- 

3. (C) The surprise announcement in Taipei sparked 
controversy over Vohor's authority to determine Vanuatu's 
diplomatic relationships.  Vanuatu's acting Prime Minister 
Ham Lini told reporters in Port Vila that Vanuatu "supports 
the one-China policy," and only recognizes the PRC.  He 
characterized reports that Vohor signed a diplomatic accord 
in Taiwan as a mistake because Vanuatu had already signed a 
recognition agreement with Beijing.  There were also wire 
reports that the communiqu had not yet received the support 
of Vohor's cabinet, which is required for the agreement to be 
finalized.  The PRC Foreign Ministry announced on November 4 
that Beijing had received a guarantee from Lini that 
Vanuatu-PRC diplomatic ties would continue. 

Taiwan Confident of Switch 
-------------------------- 

4.  (C) Taiwan officials assert that Vohor's announcement was 
final and that they fully expect his cabinet to support the 
decision.  MOFA Assistant Director General for East Asian and 
Pacific Affairs Philip Lee told AIT that Vohor guaranteed 
Taiwan that his cabinet would support the communiqu he 
signed.  Lee remarked that Vohor told his Taiwan counterparts 
that he would "take care of" the cabinet after returning to 
Vanuatu.  According to Lee, Vohor shared his plan to 
de-recognize Beijing with key members of his cabinet before 
arriving in Taipei.  Lee said that the reason for the 
confusion after the announcement was that this agreement had 
to be undertaken in secret to ensure Beijing did not 
interfere.  Lee noted that Taipei had been working since 1988 
to convince Vanuatu to de-recognize Beijing and MOFA first 
had discussions with Vohor in 1992 about establishing 
official ties when he was Foreign Minister.  Lee added that 
Vohor had become a good friend of Taiwan and that this was 
his decision. 

5.  (C) It is still unclear how much economic assistance 
Vanuatu will receive in exchange for recognition.  Vohor's 
spokesman reported to the Vanuatu press over the weekend that 
Taiwan had agreed to provide up to $28 million next year with 
no strings attached.  MOFA Vice Foreign Minister Michael Kau 
publicly denied this and said that this was an "imaginary" 
figure.  Assistant Director General Lee refused to tell AIT 
how much aid, and in what form, was promised to Vanuatu in 
exchange for the diplomatic switch, asserting that details 
would be worked out later.  He did mention that Vohor had 
been frustrated with Beijing's empty promises in providing 
aid.  Lee also remarked that Taiwan is more than happy to 
assist Vanuatu economically.  Lee lamented that given 
Taiwan's diplomatic isolation, it must offer countries 
economic expertise and experience in exchange for 
recognition. 

Beijing Surprised, Working to Counter Move 
------------------------------------------ 
6.  (C) MOFA officials noted that Beijing was caught off 
guard by Vohor's announcement, but moved quickly to lobby 
members of Vanuatu's cabinet to reject the move.  During an 
official visit to Beijing in September, Vohor reportedly 
assured President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao that 
Vanuatu would continue to recognize Beijing.  Assistant 
Director General Lee told AIT that they expect Beijing to try 
to convince Vanuatu cabinet members not to support the switch 
in diplomatic ties, but Lee and other Taiwan officials 
claimed that they are not concerned that Vohor's decision 
would be overturned. 

Comment: The Usual Muddle 
------------------------- 

7.  (C) Vanuatu marks another round in the ongoing 
Beijing-Taipei diplomatic chess match.  MOFA officials were 
clearly ecstatic over the small win, which they see as a 
pay-off for more than a decade of work cultivating Vohor. 
However, the personalized nature of the deal raises questions 
about whether the new Taiwan-Vanuatu relationship is 
sustainable.  Even if Vohor succeeds in bringing his cabinet 
around, it is far from certain whether Vanuatu will switch 
back to Beijing once more after he leaves the political 
arena.  Equally unclear is whether Taiwan's own legislature 
will be willing to underwrite once again Taiwan's dollar 
diplomacy, especially if it turns out that money is going 
into Vohor's personal bank account rather than legitimate 
development projects. 

8.  (C) However this latest episode in Taiwan's courtship of 
available diplomatic relationships plays out, it begs the 
larger question.  How long can Taiwan persuade its 27 formal 
diplomatic partners to resist the blandishments and 
intimidation that Beijing can deploy?  Does Taiwan have a 
sustainable strategy to maintain its "international space" if 
and when its formal diplomatic relations disappear one by 
one?  We will explore that question over the coming months. 
PAAL

Source: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2004/11/04TAIPEI3522.html

In this snippet from a related cable not long after, Taiwan’s returning Representative to the UK Tien Hung-mao speaks candidly about this debacle:

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04TAIPEI3899 2004-12-08 00:00 2011-09-05 13:04 CONFIDENTIAL American Institute Taiwan, Taipei
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 003899 

SIPDIS 

STATE PASS AIT/W 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/08/2014 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, TW 
SUBJECT: TIEN HUNG-MAO: PARTING SHOTS 

Classified By: AIT Director Douglas Paal, Reason: 1.4 (B/D) 

1. (C) Summary: Upon his return to Taipei from London, former 
Representative to the UK Tien Hung-mao defended himself and 
his staff on the passport case of the fugitive Andrew Wang's 
wife. He foresaw difficult times ahead for Taiwan in Europe 
as China expands its trade with EU nations and successfully 
lobbies for the lifting of the arms sales embargo. Tien 
criticized the Taiwan foreign ministry for its recent 
mishandling of Vanuatu. Commenting on Chen Shui-bian's 
recent rhetoric on using Taiwan instead of the "ROC" for the 
next United Nations General Assembly bid and representative 
offices worldwide, Tien said he can only assume Chen did so 
to counter the political inroads of former president Lee 
Teng-hui and his pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. 
Now no longer a public official, Tien said he will probably 
be spending as much time in the US as he does in Taiwan. End 
Summary.

---SNIP---

Vanuatu: Here you come again 
---------------------------- 

6. (C) Regarding the recent flap over Vanuatu, Tien told AIT 
that the entire affair has been mishandled by Deputy Minister 
Michael Kau. He said that during his own tenure as foreign 
minister (2000-2002), he had also secured a signed promise 
from then-Foreign Minister Serge Vohor to switch diplomatic 
recognition from PRC to Taiwan. Tien said that he had not 
been sure Vohor could deliver on his promise and insisted 
that Taiwan wait until the agreement was adopted and 
confirmed by the Vanuatu cabinet before announcing it 
publicly. Tien recalled that at the time he was under 
enormous pressure by senior level foreign ministry officials 
in Taipei to go public on the agreement in order to "force 
the reality" on the Vanuatu cabinet. Tien said that he had 
to exert all of his influence in order to overrule his 
foreign ministry advisers. Tien said as soon as he heard 
news about Vanuatu and Vohor, he thought to himself, "here we 
go again."

---SNIP---

PAAL

Source: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2004/12/04TAIPEI3899.html