I have not the foggiest what it took for Kenny Anthony finally to acknowledge, despite past contrary platform talk, that in our dire circumstances he had little choice but to leave standing the relationship with the government of Taiwan that was already established when first he took office in 1997.
Of course, the prime minister didn’t quite put it that way. Actually, he said precisely the opposite: “A wide range of options was open to us. We could have immediately broken relations with Taiwan. We could have expelled Ambassador Chou with dispatch to Taipei. We could have stopped all Taiwanese-funded projects in Saint Lucia. And we could have asked all Taiwanese functionaries on the island to go back home. However, we did none of that!”
For that small mercy our nation owes a huge debt of thanks to the prime minister, if not the gods that customarily inspire his decisions. Simply ending the relationship with Taiwan would not have been much of a surprise, given all that was bruited about in the years leading up the 2011 elections. Besides, as earlier indicated, this prime minister has had much practice booting people out, whether pesky local senators or uncooperative foreign diplomats. Kicking out the new ambassador as he had kicked out the ambassador’s predecessor would only have confirmed him as a one-trick pony.
But “stopping the on-going Taiwanese-funded projects?” Whatever for? How would that have benefitted the nation? Or was the prime minister suggesting on Tuesday evening that a Beijing replacement would’ve invested in the Taiwan-funded projects that the government had vengefully aborted? Sounds a little childish, if you ask me, if not outright churlish. Some might say the prime minister merely wished to let the nation know how low he is capable of stooping when the occasion demands, and to hell with the repercussions on the people. But I don’t think so.
“Saint Lucia cannot look as if it is just prepared to jump from one side to another after a general election, just for more largesse,” he said on Tuesday evening during his highly advertised televised prime minister’s address to the nation. “We cannot behave as if our sovereignty is for sale to the highest bidder.”
Oh yes, we can. And have so demonstrated. I submit that most of our arguments over a diplomatic relationship with either Taipei or Beijing had always centered on who was the highest bidder for our hardly stable loyalty. So it was in the heyday of Sir John, so it was when no one could be sure where the prime minister stood on anything, so it was at the time the Kenny Anthony administration replaced Taiwan with Beijing.
Consider the following from the 2007 Throne Speech: “After Independence in 1979 government had the opportunity to make choices in Saint Lucia’s diplomatic relations with respect to the China policy. After the most careful examination of the issues, the decision was taken to establish full diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In 1997 [the year of Kenny Anthony!] there was a change of government in Saint Lucia and these relations were severed. Taiwan was replaced by the People’s Republic of China but was invited to maintain commercial relations with Saint Lucia. My government is of the firm belief that a mere change of government should not be reason enough to sever diplomatic ties with any country.”
What, then, would be enough reason? During a televised interview shortly before the 2006 elections, Compton revealed to me his plan to establish diplomatic relationships with both Beijing and Taipei. He was at the time erroneously of the belief that America had set the precedent and what was good for America had always been good for old JC. The fact is Sir John had misread the situation: Taiwan operated a trade mission in New York but only China had U.N. recognition.
Remarkably, though the Throne Speech Compton penned for the governor general referred to diplomatic relations, the prime minister never once brought it up during his 2007 Budget address. The particular chore was left to foreign minister Rufus Bousquet who later announced the decision to embrace Taiwan, backed up by a related Cabinet Conclusion dated 27 April 2007. (Precise and authenticated details in Lapses & Infelicities.) I have no trouble recalling that in 2006 the talk-show hosts prated about nothing else when Compton was debating whether to bed China or his old friends from Taipei: What’s in it for us?, asked the directors of national opinion. Indeed, to this day the arguments continue, with Taiwan winning hands down, especially when the anti-Beijing brigade recall that they had been denied labor opportunities in favor of “imported Chinese slaves.”
In any event, did the prime minister not seem to be complaining on Tuesday evening that the $32 million a year the Taiwanese promised his government was measly compared with what he claims (but so far has been unable to substantiate) they dropped into the pockets of the previous government’s ministers? Largesse still of no moment? The prime minister’s final decision to stick with Taiwan was not unexpected, given the arrangements that have brought Beijing and Taipei closer than they’ve been in years, not to mention that the old dollar diplomacy dance routine is as passé as the la comet. Although accustomed to having his cake and eating it too, the prime minister was this time around forced into a shotgun wedding. Then again what is politics if not a marriage of convenience? Besides, it was hardly the first time this prime minister had talked the talk and then promptly sat down.
Indeed, right up to the moment when he announced the continuation of the Taiwan arrangement, the prime minister seemed to be saying he would have absolutely nothing to do with a people whose president was serving time in prison for corruption and who had permitted themselves to be represented in Saint Lucia by an ambassador that lacked respect for the laws and regulations of his host country. It remains to be explained how the ambassador Tom Chou was personally responsible for the government’s handling of Taiwanese financial aid. Neither has the nation been told precisely what laws the ambassador had contravened while in Saint Lucia? Doubtless that’s in the pipeline.
On Tuesday evening the prime minister quoted from a foreign policy review he said had been specially prepared by his foreign relations advisor Vaughan Lewis: “It is in our view an anomaly to perceive or present diplomatic recognition of Taiwan as an alternative to recognition of the People’s Republic of China, a new global and political player. Any decision to maintain recognition of Taiwan will be perceived in the arenas of
international diplomacy, and pre-eminently at the United Nations, as inevitably temporary, the result of specific contingent circumstances and objectives of the Saint Lucian state and therefore subject to change and lacking final certainty. It is our view that Saint Lucia will be perceived as similar as others are presently perceived, as mere players.” I, for one, would have been grateful for the opportunity to ask: What the hell does that mean? Where’s the anomaly? What we have here is not merely a “perception,” it is a hard fact, a reality that says our diplomatic recognition of Taiwan is “an alternative to recognition of the People’s Republic of China.” No ifs or buts. Dance around it all you wish. Lipstick on a pig does not alter its porcine status! “Against this background,” said the prime minister struggling to maintain balance, “the government of Saint Lucia has decided to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to explore new avenues for mutual support and bilateral cooperation in the interests of both sides. We have made it clear to the new ambassador that our future relationship with Taiwan must be based on respect of our laws, our traditions, culture and absolute non-interference in our domestic political affairs.” Harmony at last. But just when it seemed a soothing new normal had been established, by which Saint Lucia hoped to benefit, the prime minister abruptly switched into party-leader mode. Recalling his party’s “historical fraternal ties with the governing party in China over several years,” he promised to stay tied. “We believe those ties are essential given the evolving history in the relationship between Taiwan and China,” he said. “In that spirit the Saint Lucia Labour Party has accepted an invitation to send, at the expense of the Chinese, a delegation of party officials to China to discuss issues of mutual interest.” The delegation left the island over the weekend, the prime minister revealed, and is “led by the second deputy leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party, the Honorable Alva Baptiste.” Okay, let’s overlook the fact that the televised address had been advertised as coming from the prime minister of Saint Lucia, with no mention of his party status, for obvious good reasons. Let us overlook, too, the sudden segue from the business of we the people to the partisan concerns of the Saint Lucia Labour Party.Let us also try to ignore the insults to the various parties involved in all of this. What is of important national interest is that according to our prime minister and the leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party the foreign affairs minister had left last Saturday for a foreign country to discuss matters strictly partisan. Of course, the Vaughan Lewis-coached peripatetic Mr. Baptiste may be on leave from his normal government duties and, well-advertised SLP stalwart that he is, he may well have chosen to contribute his free time to his beloved party.
But the prime minister neglected to clear up that little cloud. Carefully, the prime minister-SLP leader went on: “This visit is without prejudice to our decision to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Chinese have been so advised. Apart from discussions on how best our fraternal party-to-party relations can be developed, the delegation will also discuss with our Chinese friends how best we can benefit from the new and positive ties being developed across the straits between China and Taiwan.” Who’ll be doing the discussing? Leo Clarke? Earl Bousquet? The ladies with their red dress on? Will the SLP representatives be representing the general interests of the country or will they be concerned only with narrower ambitions of de partee—election funds, for instance? Has there been another general election since last November’s that I know nothing about? Or have I totally misunderstood what the prime minister said on Tuesday evening?
Make no mistake, however: If it is true what they say, that politics is the art of the impossible, then on Tuesday Kenny Anthony scored heavily. He not only reasonable satisfied citizens who prayed he’d let the new ambassador stay on to continue the finally appreciated work started by his surprisingly popular predecessor (feel free to deny the man was locally loved by many!), Kenny Anthony also gave his troops ample reason not to be embarrassed by what could easily be perceived as a typical Kenny and Tony behavior. He even managed to insult the new Taiwanese ambassador without the diplomat seeming to take any offence whatsoever.
As much as provocateur TV reporters have sought to goad him into saying something retaliatory following Tuesday’s address, Tom Chou’s replacement diplomatically sidestepped the issue. Indeed, he repeatedly assured reporters that he and his government were ever so thrilled and grateful to the Saint Lucian prime minister for all he was doing toward the further unification of Taiwan and Bejing—in the best interests of all concerned, of course. And baby, that’s gonna be one hard act to follow!