Word came on June 9 that Costa Rica had broken off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC).
The news caught the Taiwan authorities off-guard and touched off panic on the island.
Costa Rica is not the first Central American country to establish diplomatic ties with China.
In the 1980s, Nicaragua, under the rule of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, severed its ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the PRC.
Nicaragua, however, resumed diplomatic relations with Taiwan after the Sandinistas went into the political wilderness in 1991. The Sandinista National Liberation Front returned to power at the beginning of this year after winning general elections. The Taiwan authorities, fearing that President Daniel Ortega would break ties with Taiwan again, are making great efforts to prevent that from happening.
James Huang, the top Taiwan official in charge of overseas affairs, made a lobbying tour to Nicaragua, offering the Central American country generators to ease its chronic power shortages. Then news came that Costa Rica had broken off diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The situation faced by the Taiwan authorities is like that described by a Chinese saying: "Hardly has one gourd been pushed under water when another bobs up."
Central America is where the countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan are concentrated. Among the 24 countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan, 12 are in Central and South America. It is only natural that the Taiwan authorities give particular importance to this area.
Traditionally, Central American nations have close connections among themselves, influencing one another's policies.
So, the Taiwan authorities are particularly worried about a possible domino effect triggered by Costa Rica's decision to establish diplomatic ties with the PRC.
In fact, some Central American countries are showing signs of moving in that direction. For example, Nicaraguan public opinion clearly thinks that Nicaragua should have established diplomatic ties with the PRC before Costa Rica. Honduras President Manuel Zelaya also said that the possibility of establishing ties with any country should not be ruled out, dictated by Honduras' own interests.
After Costa Rica's break with Taiwan, the Taiwan authorities came under increasing fire from the political opposition. They said that Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's attempt at "correcting names" by eliminating mention of "China" had made things worse.
While pushing for the island's membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) under the name of "Taiwan", Chen Shui-bian was actually forcing the countries that still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan to show where they stood.
It turned out that the Central American countries that still have diplomatic ties with Taiwan behaved rather ambiguously at the May WHO vote on Taiwan's membership. Nicaragua and Panama were absent, Haiti abstained and Costa Rica voted "Nay".
In the international arena, it is widely admitted that Taiwan is part of China. The Taiwan authorities' attempts to join international organizations such as the United Nations and WHO as a sovereign country under the name of "Taiwan" are doomed to failure.
In pushing their forlorn bid, the Taiwan authorities put the countries that still maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan in an embarrassing position, while failing to win support from the international community.
It is no accident that Costa Rica broke off relations with Taiwan. The decision demonstrates that the PRC is gaining increasing international influence and that the "Taiwan independence" secessionist line adopted by the Taiwan authorities runs counter to the will of people.
For a long time, the Taiwan authorities managed to maintain diplomatic relations with some countries by lavishly giving out money. But this approach seems to be losing effectiveness.
Backed by its rapid economic growth, the People's Republic of China is having growing influence on international affairs.
In announcing the establishment of diplomatic relations with the PRC, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said: "It is my responsibility to recognize a global player as important as the People's Republic of China." He emphasized the economic and geopolitical reality represented by the PRC.
Meanwhile, the PRC is actively developing trade and business ties with the countries with which it does not yet have diplomatic ties.
Just a few days ago, the Panama Canal International Advisory Board met in Shanghai. Dani Kuzniecky, Panama's minister of canal affairs, and other high-ranking Panamanian officials were impressed by Shanghai's deep-water port of Yangshan and the East China Sea Bridge.
In addition, sister-city relationships have been established between some Chinese and Panamanian cities. All these exchanges are powering the development of bilateral ties.
Over the last three decades, the opening-up of the Chinese mainland has seen great success, bringing huge benefits to China and the world.
The mainland also has its door wide open to Taiwan. The economic and trade ties across the Taiwan Straits have been expanding. The opening of the Chinese mainland lets the international community see the Chinese government's determination to resolve the Taiwan question via economic integration and peaceful means.
In contrast, the Taiwan economy is going from bad to worse. The Taiwan authorities are pushing for "de jure independence", playing one ethnic group against another, which only serves to split Taiwan society.
The "Taiwan independence" elements believe that once the banner of independence is raised, they can do what they want, international realities aside. This kind of political approach does not sell well in the international community.
The overall situation is that the one-China policy is becoming increasingly popular. All attempts at pushing for "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" are bound to end in failure. This is evidenced by the outcome of the voting for Taiwan's WHO membership.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
(China Daily 06/19/2007 page10)