The aggressive move comes after rounds of negotiations, dialogues, consultations, and even economic inducement by Beijing failed to coax Hargeisa to severe its budding relation with Taipei.

According to reports dated September 19, almost a week after Somaliland opened its representative office in Taiwan, China delivered ‘large-scale’ military aid to Somalia. The gesture came with a message impelling Somalia to retaliate against Somaliland, which refused to kneel to China’s command and established commercial ties with Taiwan.

As per a Somali-language news report, the addition of Chinese muscle to Somalia has rung major warning bells for Somaliland, with its diplomats fearing possible conflicts between the two nations on the behest of imperialist China.

Meanwhile, a private social media channel has claimed that Beijing recently made ‘the world’s biggest pledge’ and ‘is expected to offer billions of dollars in the coming days.’ A Somali-language television channel on Saturday broadcasted a short report on the China-Somalia defense deal. The report read a statement from the Somalian leadership, who claimed that Beijing ‘thanked’ Mogadishu for maintaining good relations and understanding.

The Timeline

Scenes leading to the current development had started unfolding back on July 1, which happens to be Somali Independence Day, when the northern breakaway region of Somaliland signed an agreement with Taiwan. The embrace between the two would see them open representative offices in their territories as part of efforts to improve mutual cooperation.

The two states almost share a common history, given their secessionist agenda, which has since been Taiwan, popularly known as the Republic of China, break away from the People’s Republic of China. While Taiwan is an independent nation, Somaliland is still struggling to achieve the status of a republic.

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The agreement was first signed in early February, which was part of Taiwan’s strategy to expand its presence within the east and the Horn of Africa, a move that is geared towards boosting its international presence in other countries.

Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu taking on Twitter had posted ‘We have signed an agreement with Somaliland to establish good relations. A Taiwan representative office will be set up in this independent country on the Horn of Africa.’ Somaliland, which continues to negotiate with Somalia over the nature of their cooperation, welcomed the agreement by Taiwan, adding that it would boost its international reputation, which it has struggled to gain ever since seceding from Somalia.

On the same day (July 1), the Chinese embassy in Somalia has expressed its disapproval to Taiwan, and Somaliland’s decision to strengthen their relations reiterating their ‘One China’ policy. In a series of tweets, the Chinese embassy dismissed the partnership, saying The People’s Republic of China (PRC) represents the ‘whole of China’ on the global stage.

The tweet read ‘There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is a part of China, and the government of PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.’ The diplomatic mission went on to say that Taiwan could not diverge from China.

On July 4, Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo held talks with Chinese Ambassador to Somalia Qin Jian, focusing on the respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the two countries.

Two days after meeting between Farmaajo and Jian, Beijing opposed the establishment of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Somaliland. On July 6, during a regular press conference Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China firmly opposes the establishment of official institutions or any form of official exchange between the Taiwan authorities and Somaliland.

Days after the backlash on July 21, China agreed to conduct joint Red Sea patrols with Somalia. The PLA’s Logistics Support Base in Djibouti is China’s only overseas military installation and is part of its Strings of Pearl naval strategy that seeks a dominant role in the Red Sea.

On the same day, Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, addressing police and army cadet graduates, reiterated Somaliland’s stance on the Red Sea Initiative and without directly attacking the Somalia-China agreement. Local Somali-language reports indicated that President Bihi and few cabinet members have been briefed on the maritime agreement between China and Somalia.

On August 1, Jian arrived in Hargeisa for talks with government officials. Jian met senior officials of the Somaliland foreign affairs ministry and discuss the recent relationship between Taiwan-Somaliland. Government sources observed that this was Jian’s second visit to Somaliland in the past few months to persuade Hargeisa to cease all activities with Taipei.

On August 3, reports claimed that President Bihi had directed ‘close confidants’ to examine ways of bolstering Somaliland’s relations with Taiwan, including ‘the possibility of mutual recognition between Taiwan and Somaliland.’ On August 4, reports surfaced that a Chinese delegation would visit Somaliland on August 5, while Jian was reportedly residing in Somaliland since August 1, attempting to arrange a meeting with Bihi.

A Somali-language news report wrote ‘ in the meeting, Jian started putting on the wolf warrior diplomacy act and threatening Somaliland but Bihi rebuffed his tactics and hours later ordered his Ministry of Foreign Affairs to begin the process of recognizing Taiwan.

On August 6, another Somali-language newspaper said that ‘according to government sources, during the meeting, the Chinese side offered a development deal which included road and airport infrastructure projects and the installation of a liaison office in Somaliland on the condition that Bihi severs ties with Taiwan. In the end, Bihi rejected the Chinese offer and informed them that rather than cut ties with Taiwan.

Refusing to take a no from Somaliland, a delegation of Chinese investors met Bihi’s Energy Minister Jama’a Mohamud Egal on August 7. On the same day, Bihi had a high-tea with a high-level Chinese government delegation led by Zhou Yuxiao, Beijing’s envoy to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

Ten days, after these whirlwind developments, on August 17 Taiwan officially opened its new representative office in Hargeisa. On the same day, both China and Somalia officially condemned the establishment of the ties between Taiwan and Somaliland. In responding to Taipei’s feat, on August 25, Hargeisa announced that it is set to officially open its representative office in Taiwan in early September with a staff of five.

The new-found relations between Somaliland and Taiwan, on September 8 went a notch higher following the opening of a diplomatic office in Taipei. Taiwan Foreign Affairs Ministry lauded the opening of the office which was officiated by President  Bihi via video link and Taiwan Foreign Affairs Minister Wu. Diplomatic officials from both sides also attended the ceremony.

Experts Examine

Citing the Taiwan-Somalialand embrace as an important achievement, Dr. Prashant Kumar Singh, Associate Fellow of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis said that the development comes as a glimmer of hope for Taipei which has lost seven diplomatic allies in rapid succession to China.

“Taiwan has lost diplomatic support (nations) since Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2016. Taiwan has managed to secure relations with Somaliland despite enormous pressure from China on the latter is a notable development. Somaliland’s difficult relations with Somalia and its status in the international community that may remind people of Taiwan’s own predicament may also have facilitated the ties,” Dr. Singh said.

He added that Taiwan was by and large already out of the game of poaching of each other’s (China) diplomatic allies by the late 1990s and early 2000s. “However, with managing to win over Somaliland, Taiwan may have come back in the game,” Dr. Singh reckoned while adding that given the prevailing tense geopolitical and strategic situation between China and the west in which Taiwan receives much more energetic support, a ‘diplomatic conflict’ may acquire a serious turn.

Dr. Roger Liu, the Associate Professor of the FLAME University agreed that China’s move to arm Somalia is ‘the counteraction in diplomacy that Beijing has taken to show its support to Mogadishu, and, consequently, a reaction to Taipei’s recent diplomatic success to establish the mutual relationship with Hargeisa.

He pointed that he tactic of using one country against another—or ‘Yi Yi Zhi Yi,’ meaning ‘pitting one barbarian against another’—has been used before by China, but only with the great powers.

“The situation between the two African nations, it is much easier for Beijing to be sympathetic and put itself in the place of Mogadishu, to help sanction against a ‘renegade province’ of Somaliland. By doing this, China can make sure that it stands with the majority of African states, and, more importantly, by supporting Somalia, Beijing can better ensure that its efforts put in anti-piracy in the Horn of Africa region for the past two decades would not go in vain without the support of Somalian governments. This is very important for the Chinese to better use its new military base in Djibouti, which is 250km short of Somaliland,” Dr. Liu highlighted.

Namrata Hasija, the Research Associate of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS), voiced that with DPP’s win this January, Beijing will now have to view them as one with a sizeable following that contests China’s ‘one country, two systems’ policy.

“Taiwanese leadership, in fact, assiduously sought to build the country’s military capability with Taipei’s defense budget expected to reach $ 11.9bn in 2020. Beijing would need to accept that ‘Taiwan identity’ and nationalism have both acquired a prominent salience,” Hasija said.

Emphasizing that every new friendship embarked by Taipei irks Beijing, she referred to how China pressurized the Czech Republic when they were getting friendly with Taiwan. “China has been openly threatening countries moving even an inch closer to Taiwan. Beijing is becoming restless everywhere, not only in Taiwan as it is not seeing China’s dream being fulfilled according to the timeline set up by President Xi Jinping,” the polymath on China said.

However, she insisted that instead of launching any military action on Taiwan, China will just flex muscles, cut Taipei off from all international organizations, and ultimately leave it with no diplomatic partner.