By Masina, Lameck
African Business , No. 339
Malawi becomes the third Taiwanese ally to defect to China over the past 18 months. Chad dumped Taiwan in August 2006, followed by Costa Rica in June 2007.
The decision follows the signing of a five-point memorandum of understanding on 28 December in Beijing between Malawi and China which called for the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, mutual and economical support--and the recognition of only one China and that Taiwan is an alienable part of China's territory.
Announcing the switch at a press conference in the capital Lilongwe on 14 January, foreign affairs minister, Joyce Banda, said Malawi had considered the many opportunities the government would gain from China. She added that the new diplomatic relationship would open up a vast market in that country and that Malawi would be able to look forward to investments that might now come from China.
China had already pledged over $6bn in aid to Malawi, including funding of Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project--a dream project of president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Reports indicate that China has also pledged to fund the construction of a sports stadium, a youth centre, a science and technology university, and to take over the funding of all projects currently being undertaken by Taiwan.
Taiwan has been funding the construction of the Karonga-Chitipa road and the new parliament building in the capital Lilongwe, among other major bilateral development activities. A major health facility, the Mzuzu Hospital, has already been financed by Taiwan.
Banda told reporters that the switch would not affect projects currently run by Taiwan. "When we had an opportunity to sit down and discuss all the details of this relationship, every angle and aspect of Malawi's relations with Taiwan was taken care of and high on the agenda were projects carried out by Taiwan. Whatever projects are going on they will be completed according to schedule," she said.
However, when the local media first reported in November that Malawi had been secretly sending high powered delegations to mainland China to discuss the establishment of diplomatic relations, government officials had denied the reports. They said that as a member of the UN, Malawi was free to discuss anything with any country which was also a member of the United Nations.
Malawi's intention to dump Taiwan for China was first discussed at cabinet level, in 2004, soon after Mutharika came to power, but Taiwan got wind of the development from a cabinet minister who leaked the information to the Taiwanese ambassador to Malawi.
Taiwan reacted by inviting Mutharika to Taipei where the government was offered helicopters and other vessels which have not yet arrived in the country because of logistical problems. But locomotives that were donated during that trip arrived in the country in 2006 and were commissioned by Mutharika and Taiwanese official amid much fanfare and pomp.
In December, Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Phoebe Yeh, speaking at a news conference in Taipei, said that her ministry had sent two officials to Malawi because of the reports that Malawi and mainland China intended to sign an agreement to establish formal ties. "We will be paying close attention. China wants to win over Taiwanese diplomatic relations," Yeh said.
Malawi's first president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, refused to establish diplomatic ties with mainland China because of that country's communist policy.
China has so far established strong footholds in most Southern African countries. The development has shrunk Taiwan's worldwide allies to only 23, against 171 that support China.
Meanwhile, Swaziland is the only country in Southern Africa with diplomatic ties with Taiwan. China had been aggressively seeking partnership in Africa in recent years to attract natural resources and meet energy needs at home. …