The People’s Republic of China is currently holding the two-day China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Beijing. While groups of African leaders and diplomats are gathering in China’s capital and enjoying the red carpet reception, eSwatini — the only country on the African continent that hasn’t established diplomatic relations with China — stood out for its absence. Reports indicate that China pushed hard for the small southern African nation, which until recently was known as Swaziland, to switch its allegiance from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the PRC.
On August 29, Duowei News, a Chinese language news website based in the United States, cited an unnamed informed source as saying that eSwatini has been privately yet actively negotiating with China on establishing diplomatic ties for a while.
Although eSwatini on the surface has given Taiwan its assurance that it wouldn’t switch allegiance, it is highly likely that Taiwan would lose its last remaining ally on the African continent during the time window of FOCAC, the source added.
Acquired by a Hong Kong media mogul in 2009, Duowei News is believed to have hidden connections with China’s authorities, as the website has been able to obtain exclusive information from China’s high officials from time to time.
However, eSwatini has tried to send assuring messages to Taiwan by emphasizing publicly that it will stick with Taiwan in spite of China’s diplomatic pressure and financial allure.
According to Reuters, eSwatini’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze most recently said that Taiwan is the country’s major partner, “so they [China] must forget about having us in their stable.” Earlier, Gamedze had accused Beijing of playing “mind games” by suggesting that his country would be the next diplomatic ally to drop Taiwan.
When asked about eSwatini at the regular press conference on August 31, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying made an ambiguous response without mentioning the country directly.
“The Chinese government stands ready to develop friendly relations with all other countries,” she said. “We hope that the relevant country could take the right step in accordance with the trend of the times and its own interests and join the big family of China-Africa cooperation at an early date.”
At a special press conference for FOCAC on September 1, Xu Jinghu, China’s special representative for African Affairs, claimed that China will not pressure eSwatini to cut ties with Taiwan, but also suggested it is only a matter of time before eSwatini will “join the China-Africa family.”
“We are waiting for the right time,” Xu added. “I believe that day will come soon.”
The Chinese foreign ministry has been promoting the idea of a “China-Africa family” for quite a while.
Early in January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly urged all African countries to join the “China-Africa family” during his trip to São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation that broke ties with Taiwan in December 2016. Wang said to the press:
I sincerely hope that all African countries, without a single absentee, will appear in the family photo of China-Africa cooperation, and no one will miss again the historic opportunity of taking the express train of China’s development and no one will be dissociated from the gate to China-Africa friendly cooperation. I believe that in China’s historic process of realizing complete national reunification, all African brothers will stand together with the Chinese people.
As The Diplomat has been closely following, China has been actively squeezing Taiwan’s international space in recent years.
On August 21, the Republic of El Salvador, a small Central American nation, formally switched allegiance to China from Taiwan — leaving Taiwan with only 17 diplomatic allies.