Allen Chenhwa Lou (L), Taiwan’s representative to Somaliland, and Yasin Hagi Mohamoud, Somaliland’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, take part in a ceremony to open Taiwan’s representative office in Somaliland on Aug. 17, 2020. (Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
By John Mac Ghlionn
Have you ever fallen prey to progression bias? Although the phenomenon is most often applied to romantic relationships, it can also be applied to the world of politics. The progression bias can be seen with China and its 139 Belt and Road Initiative clients.
Since 2013, the year the initiative first began, the risks associated with the Chinese regime’s global infrastructure development strategy have been repeated ad nauseam. Nevertheless, the warnings have fallen on dozens of deaf ears; 71 percent of the world’s countries have signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt One Road). When the Chinese regime promises new roads and bridges, buildings and dams, one would do well to remember that Beijing regularly fails to deliver on its promises. Numerous countries now find themselves saddled with unfathomable levels of debt. They are in too deep, compromised in every way imaginable. Quitting, they tell themselves, is no longer an option.
Others, clearly weary of Beijing’s promises, have taken the road less traveled. Countries like Lithuania and Somaliland, for example, simply refuse to buy into the expensive, exaggerated promises of the BRI. They have decided to take a stand against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—to take a stand against a regime that carries out genocide in Xinjiang, intimidates citizens in Tibet and Hong Kong, imprisons activists and journalists, and continues to spread lies about the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. With a combined population of fewer than 6.5 million people, Lithuania and Somaliland have taken the fight to Beijing; for this, both deserve to be acknowledged and applauded.
In May, the Lithuanian government, rather boldly, announced that it would be pulling out of the “17+1” assembly with immediate effect, much to Beijing’s chagrin. For the uninitiated, the assembly consists of the 17 Central and East European countries and China. Its members meet annually, and the format’s main focus revolves around enhancing ties between the European nations and Beijing. The Lithuanians, no longer interested in cheerleading a tyrannical regime, waved the assembly goodbye. In July, to rub more salt in China’s wounds, the Taiwanese government announced plans to open a diplomatic facility in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
Clearly unhappy, the CCP demanded the Baltic nation to withdraw its ambassador to China immediately. The Lithuanians, apparently unfazed, refused to comply. In the second week of August, the CCP announced the withdrawal of its envoy to Vilnius. Shortly after, Diana Mickeviciene, Lithuania’s ambassador to the Chinese regime, was told to leave Beijing.
On Aug. 22, John Gong, an academic who has written numerous China-friendly pieces, penned a vicious op-ed for CGTN, a news outlet run by the Propaganda Department of the CCP. By recognizing Taiwan’s sovereignty, how could “a country that few folks can easily find on a map” have the audacity to violate “the one-China policy?” asked Gong. By “infringing” upon China’s “territorial integrity,” the Lithuanians had offended one of the most powerful countries in the world. The CCP, embarrassed and indignant, has since halted trade with Lithuania. The tactics being employed by Beijing appear to be very similar to the tactics used to confront Australia last year. The Aussies weathered the storm. Whether or not Lithuania emerges from this economic onslaught unscathed remains to be seen. The United States and the European Union should do everything in its power to ensure that it does.
Almost 6,200 miles away, a similar exercise in courage is playing out. With 36 of its countries signed up to the BRI, the African continent has no shortage of Chinese clients. However, Somaliland, no bigger than the state of Arizona, is not one of them. In the words of former U.S. national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien, despite months of highly concentrated pressure, the Somaliland government has opted to ignore Beijing and has instead invited Taiwan to open an embassy in Hargeisa, the country’s capital. The Taiwanese government, clearly appreciative of the gesture, now offers scholarship programs for Somaliland students who wish to study in Taipei, writes O’Brien. Additionally, aid from Taiwan has started “flowing into the country,” assisting with “energy, agriculture, and human-capital projects.”
Thirty years ago, Somaliland proclaimed its independence from Somalia. Despite having a fully functioning government and its own currency, it is yet to be recognized as an independent state. One imagines that its bloody struggle for freedom explains its friendship with Taiwan, a country that has also struggled for independence and its own identity. In many ways, Somaliland is the Taiwan of Africa. Similar to the Lithuanians, the unrecognized sovereign state appears to prize morals over money. In an age of unadulterated greed, isn’t that something worth celebrating?