Visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves reaffirmed Tuesday that his country will not cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a precondition to setting up ties with China.
“Nobody can dictate to the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, so long as I am prime minister, any precondition. You can’t tell me that I must abandon a friend to have relations with you,” Gonsalves said during an interview with CNA in Taipei.
The SVG prime minister is visiting Taiwan as it faces an ongoing military and economic pressure campaign engineered by China to retaliate against United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week.
Some fear China could extend its pressure campaign, which has been widely condemned around the world, to stealing away some of Taiwan’s 14 remaining diplomatic allies around the world.
Beijing has already lured eight of Taiwan’s allies to switch allegiance since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who has adopted a far more adversarial stance toward China than her predecessor, took power.
But Gonsalves said Taiwan need not worry that his country would switch diplomatic recognition to China.
If China changes its policy and says “OK, it’s fine to have relations with Taiwan and it’s fine to have relations with them (China), that’s straightforward. We will hold discussions with them about that, but we wouldn’t change our relations with Taiwan,” Gonsalves said.
He acknowledged, however, that “hell will have to freeze over” first before China agrees to that.
Despite not having formal relations, Gonsalves said his country still works with China in international bodies such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
He said he was certain Beijing would love Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to establish diplomatic relations with China and cut ties with Taiwan, “but I’m not going to cut links with Taiwan.”
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that countries cannot isolate themselves from the world, which is why he has advocated that Taiwan be included in such organizations as the World Health Assembly, International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization, he said.
Those institutions would benefit from Taiwan’s presence, he said.
“At some time or the other we have to stop fighting these old 20th century battles and take reality as we find it in the 21st century and have a peaceful settlement of any dispute among two legitimate political expressions of the Chinese civilization,” he said.
Gonsalves is making his 11th visit to Taiwan as prime minister and the first since he was re-elected for a fifth consecutive term of office in November 2020, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
During his stay, he has met with Tsai and witnessed the signing of a bilateral judicial cooperation agreement and a letter of intent for collaboration in higher education.
He arrived in Taiwan on Aug. 7, as China was still conducting military drills in waters around the island in retaliation for the Aug. 2-3 visit by Pelosi, the highest-level U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
China has called Pelosi’s visit “provocative” and said it infringed on China’s sovereignty and violated the one-China principle.
Gonsalves said his visit was not undertaken because of the Chinese military drills, as it had been organized months before, but he also did not allow the military exercises to deter him from visiting Taiwan as scheduled.
“I didn’t need to come to Taiwan to reaffirm the solidarity of the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and our government with the people and the government of Taiwan,” Gonsalves said.
“We have had relations with Taiwan for 41 years and those relations are good. Those relations are sound,” he said.