Since Taiwan and Somaliland announced in July that they were going to establish mutual representative offices, the international community has been paying attention to how these two governments that are not recognized by most countries in the world will nurture this unusual relationship. Experts think that shared values are the foundation for both sides to deepen their relationship.
Somaliland, the self-declared East African State, formally opened its representative office in Taiwan’s capital Taipei on September 9. This is another sign of the deepened bilateral relationship between Taiwan and Somaliland since Taiwan opened its representative office in Somaliland in August.
According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Somaliland’s representative office will have five staff in Taipei. Apart from the representative and two staff from Somaliland, they plan to hire two local staff from Taiwan. During the opening ceremony, Somaliland’s representative to Taiwan said that the bilateral accord between Somaliland and Taiwan is based on their common values of freedom and democracy.
“It is to initiate efforts to strengthen relations in areas of common interest that may promote bilateral trade and economic cooperation among equals such as education, health, agriculture, energy, mining and ICT,” Mohamed Hagi Mohamoud added.
In a recent interview with Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu highlighted that even though Somaliland is not recognized by the international community, it has gone through several free elections and a peaceful transfer of power among political parties.
“Therefore, if you look at this country, it is a genuine democracy and it is also a country with free freedom of press and freedom of speech,” Wu said. “Taiwan can benefit from the strategic position or the resources that Somaliland has while Somaliland can benefit from Taiwan’s experience in medical assistance or agricultural assistance.”
Wu said that as Taiwan’s foreign minister, he has the responsibility to build relations with many countries, so he will focus on continuing to deepen Taiwan’s relationship with other countries. “We can’t just keep fighting against China in the diplomatic tug of war,” Wu said.
The bond between two governments that are widely unrecognized
Experts pointed to the similarities between Taiwan and Somaliland as the unusual nature of this relationship. Both governments are not recognized by most countries around the world. Omar Mahmood, the senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that whenever the government of Somaliland has an opportunity to engage other countries or entities, they really undertake the chance to demonstrate its independence and sovereignty.
“While Somaliland has restarted the dialogue process with Somalia in June, Somaliland is sending a very clear signal that it hasn’t changed its perception that it is a sovereign entity,” said Mahmood. “Somaliland’s current president is very set on building the relationship with Taiwan, so when China approached Somaliland in August, Somaliland’s government reassured Taiwan that its interaction with China would not affect the relationship between Taiwan and Somaliland.”
Mahmood pointed out that Somaliland’s newly established relationship with Taiwan is a way for Somaliland to attract the attention of external actors. Additionally, since China basically recognizes one Somalia, engaging Somaliland will be quite awkward for Beijing. “I think this condition will make it a little bit difficult for China to overcome the challenges,” Mahmood said.
Shared values are the foundation for further development
On the other hand, Bonnie Glaser, the senior advisor for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thinks that as some American officials have described Taiwan as “a force for good in the world,” Taiwan should utilize this particular strength to deepen its relationship with Somaliland based on shared values.
“I think Somaliland recognizes that there is only so much that one can get from Beijing, so shared values are important to countries around the world,” Glaser said. “That’s also something Taipei can highlight. I think the government in Somaliland recognizes that there are risks in aligning too closely with China.”
Additionally, Glaser pointed out that since Somaliland is a democracy, Taiwan doesn’t need to worry about the problem of corruption when both countries are exploring possibilities for future cooperation. “Taiwan has its own very successful development experience, so I think Taiwan really does have a great model that is relevant to a place like Somaliland,” said Glaser.
Possibilities for future cooperation
Omar Mahmood thinks that given the global situation with COVID19, public health is one aspect that Somaliland can potentially benefit from its newly established relationship with Taiwan. Economically, Mahmood thinks both countries can explore possibilities in the area of trade and investment.
“One thing that Somaliland has been trying to do over the past few years is expanding its range of international relations through business ties,” Mahmood pointed out. “I think there are some potential ties that can be explored with Taiwanese companies. Both sides can maybe also try to cooperate in the humanitarian aid sector.”
While some media reports suggested that Somaliland might consider pursuing a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, Mahmood thinks Somaliland will have to consider both the reaction from Beijing and whether the move might push China closer to Somalia or not. Regardless, since both Taiwan and Somaliland face similar challenges internationally, Mahmood thinks they can be viewed as “natural partners” in some ways.
“I think the government in Somaliland is fairly reliable, and while they are trying to establish their international relations, they have to be a reliable partner,” Mahmood said. “If they are unreliable, it could be detrimental to themselves.”
This piece is first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.