The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria is calling upon Abuja to ensure the ‘full execution’ of the ‘one China’ policy.
During a visit to Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) this week, Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria Zhou Pingjian, accompanied by Deputy Ambassador Jing Lin and Political Officer Peng Chen, lamented that Nigeria had not fully implemented its “one China” policy and called on the oil-rich African country to meet its part of the bargain.
Following the announcement of a pledge by Beijing of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects in Nigeria, Abuja announced in January that Taiwan’s representative office in the capital was to be downgraded and relocated to Lagos, the country’s commercial center. Due to pressure from Chinese authorities, “diplomatic privileges” and staff at Taiwan’s mission were also to be curtailed.
Nigeria is Taiwan’s third largest trade partner in Africa after Angola and South Africa, though trade volume has dropped in recent years, from US$977 million in 2014 to US$200 million in 2016. Established in Lagos in 1991, the office relocated to the capital in 2001.
Analysts have interpreted the developments in January as a possible intensification of Beijing’s efforts to limit Taiwan’s space abroad and to undermine its ability to engage in cultural, consular and diplomatic exchanges with countries with which it does not have official diplomatic relations.
Now, during his meeting with the APC national chairman and members of the APC National Working Committee (NWC) this week, Ambassador Zhou also expressed Beijing’s request that Taiwan’s office in Nigeria be renamed to bring Abuja in full compliance with the “one China” policy.
The office, currently known as the Trade Mission of the ROC (Taiwan), should be renamed the Taipei Trade Agency, Lagos, Zhou said.
“Unfortunately, in 1999, Nigeria’s ministry of commerce signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan which led to the setting up of a Trade mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Nigeria,” Zhou said. “That is two Chinas. For years, we have kept the pressure on Nigeria.”
“Unfortunately, in 1999, Nigeria’s ministry of commerce signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan which led to the setting up of a Trade mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Nigeria. That is two Chinas.”
“Nigeria’s policy is one China but unfortunately, it has not been fully executed,” Zhou continued. “The mission contravenes the Policy of One China […] What we are asking the [Nigerian] ministry of foreign affairs to do is to fully implement, execute the One China policy […] We are requesting a change of name from the Trade Mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to Taipei Trade Agency, Lagos. We are not sure that has been done or not. We are also requesting the relocation of the Mission to Lagos, because Abuja is the political capital of Nigeria.”
In response, John Odigie-Oyegun, chairman of the APC, said he would communicate Zhou’s demand to the appropriate agencies.
“We take the message very seriously and we will take it up,” he said in a statement. “We must not let these issues stand in the way of very important and critical relationship between Nigeria and China.”
Beijing’s pressure on foreign governments to rename Taiwan’s unofficial missions overseas — the designation of those missions resulting from negotiations between the host countries and the Taiwanese government — could represent a new phase in China’s efforts to erase all symbols suggesting nationhood for Taiwan, starting with countries in Africa that, due to to their need for infrastructure investment, may be more amenable to playing along. The targeting of Taiwanese representative offices in countries with which Taipei does not have official diplomatic relations — offices that, in many cases, perform the functions of embassies — is also escalatory, as it suggests that Beijing may no longer limit its campaign to isolate Taiwan by “stealing” its official diplomatic allies.
Besides being part of Beijing’s retaliatory efforts against the Tsai Ing-wen administration for its refusal to acknowledge the so-called “1992 consensus” and “one China,” this latest salvo may also have been in response to the recent — and reciprocal — renaming of the semi-official agencies that handle relations between Taiwan and Japan. On Jan. 1 this year, Japan changed the name of its representative office in Taiwan from the Interchange Association, Japan, to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association; this week, the Cabinet in Taipei approved a change of name of its representative office from the Association of East Asian Relations to the Association of Taiwan-Japan Relations.
In recent years, a number of foreign representative offices in Taiwan have also made changes to their names to better reflect the full nature of their operations, which besides trade include consular services, cultural exchanges and diplomacy. A few other missions have initiated the process of renaming their office but have encountered resistance in their capitals due to fears that such a move would “anger” Beijing.