PRC at 75 and Taiwan as a Cerebral Thrombosis: The Challenge before the Chinese Lagos Forum

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

PRC is the acronym for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which was founded on October 1, 1949. The PRC, which celebrates its Independence Day on October 1 like Nigeria, succeeded the Republic of China (ROC) in 1949 following an insurrection against the ROC that reigned for 37 years, from 1912 through 1949. It was this insurrection that prompted the succession of the PRC and that created the current Taiwan saga which has now moved beyond being a noisome problem to being like another cerebral thrombosis, a disease or a blockage of the veins that impedes the free flow of blood to the brain. 

Politically, Taiwan is. Indeed, a major headache from the perspective of how to finally resolve its future: Should Taiwan be tolerated to become a sovereign State like the PRC? Should Mainland China continue to insist on ‘One China, Two systems?’ To what extent can the avoidance of use of force be possible in resolving the dispute? On the one hand, Beijing authorities are claiming de jure sovereignty over Taiwan. Taiwan, on the other hand, wants to be separated and sovereign, based on the international rule of self-determination.

In this regard, there are two competing truths and principles. First is the conflict between Mainland China’s right as a sovereign Member State of the United Nations to ensure its self-preservation, and by so doing, enforcing its territorial integrity. In fact, the United Nations discourages any attempt at disintegration in its Member States. This means that Chinese insistence on national unity, predicated on ‘One China, Two Systems,’ is very consistent with the UN tradition. 

The second truth is the question of self-determination, which originated and applied to encouragement of decolonisation. It was a principle that was meant to end the exploitation of dependent territories on their colonial masters. Put differently, the principle was initially applicable in the context of decolonisation. Today, peoples having reasons of mistreatment, denial of justice, who can claim to be victims of various reasons of victimisation, genocide, etc. in their countries are also seeking an independent status. What is the leeway for both Mainland China and Taiwan?

Taiwan as a Cerebral Thrombosis 

The Second Lagos Forum took place on Thursday, 16th May, 2024 at the Chinese Golden Gate Restaurant, 25B Golden Gate Complex, 1 Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The First Lagos Forum was organised within a quadripartite collaboration: the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Chinese Consulate General in Lagos, Africa-China Economy Magazine, and Institute of African Studies, ZNU, China. It was held at the NIIA Conference Chamber on 21st March, 2024 and themed ‘The Chinese in the Nigerian Economy: Deepening Development Cooperation towards a Shared Future, A Better World.’ By so doing, the Forum laid the foundation for further discussions on how to strengthen Nigeria-China ties. It is against this background that the holding of a second forum last May 16 should also be understood.

True enough, there are several issues in the relationship between Nigeria and China: occasional kidnapping of Chinese working on contractual basis in Nigeria, hence the problem of how to secure them; allegations of mistreatment of and discriminations against Nigerians by some Chinese companies in Nigeria; sustainability of Sino-Nigerian friendship and entente at the level of the people-to-people, etc. People talk about the Chinese acquiring massive land in Nigeria and Africa, but talk less about the great impact that the Chinese are making in the various sectors of the national and African economy. 

While these concerns attract the attention of the current Consul General of the Chinese Consulate General in Lagos, Ms Yan Yuqin, she still shows more preoccupation for the international politics of the status of Taiwan by inviting scholars, diplomats and Chinese businessmen in Nigeria to also engage in the re-evaluation of the place of Taiwan in Sino-Nigerian bilateral ties at various levels. For instance, has Nigeria’s policy support for ‘One China, Two Systems’ changed? Assuming that an UNGA vote were to be taken today, what is the likely attitudinal disposition of Nigeria and African States? Can China continue to rely on Nigeria based on mutual respect and assistance? Can China support Nigeria’s interest in becoming a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council with or without the right of veto? Will there be a conditionality for such a support?

Without jot of doubt, Nigeria is on record to have always supported China’s policy of ‘One China, Two System,’ and two reasons can be simply adduced for the position. First, Nigeria cannot but seek to learn lessons from its 1967-1970 civil war experiences. The Eastern Region, under the military governorship of Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded from Nigeria by force while Colonel Yakubu Gowon similarly reciprocated by seeking to maintain national unity by use of military force. The military slogan by then was ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ Colonel Ojukwu’s use of force and Colonel Gowon’s use of counter-force led to war that is yet to come to an end. The battles or hot wars were stopped but the underlying war without battlefields and the inherent cold war is still subsisting. 

For examples, there are still some ethnic groups fighting for sovereign autonomy on the same basis of self-determination. The descendants of the Old Biafra, such as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) are still dreaming of a Sovereign State of Biafra. There are also the Yoruba groups asking for the establishment of an Oduduwa Republic. In this type of situation, even though some controversial reports have it that China gave some support to the Biafran war effort, the Gowonian military administration did not bother much about it by particularly adopting the post-war policy of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ and by also establishing formal diplomatic relations at the end of the civil war with China on February 10, 1971. Consequently, Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of supporting disintegration abroad bearing in mind the implications for the separatist agitations and implications at the domestic level. Separatist agitations constitute a sort of cerebral thrombosis for any incumbent government threatened by insurrection and are therefore unacceptable. The Chinese-Taiwan case cannot be different.

And without any whiff of doubt, the misunderstanding between Mainland China and Taiwan is not stricto-sensu about ownership of or sovereignty over Taiwan, but Taiwanese decision to opt out of Mainland China by manu militari, which Beijing does not want to accept. Western countries, especially the United States, are on record to be aiding and abetting Taiwanese intransigence. This is the noisome aspect of the issue. Historical records and international agreements do support the fact that Taiwan was and still is a constitutive part of Mainland China as a people, as a territory, and as a country. Colonisation or decolonisation of Taiwan has very little or nothing to do with the unity of culture, territorial unity of a people in spite of centrifugal politics of governance put in place. In other words, we contend here that Taiwan and Mainland China have not been disunited. 

Historically, following the 1894 Japanese war of aggression on China, the Qing government was compelled to surrender Taiwan and Penghu islands to Japan. Again, following the Chinese resistance against the Japanese in the period 1931 to 1945, the PRC asked for the recovery of Taiwan. In fact, the PRC declared war on Japan on December 9, 1941. Eventually, Japan was defeated and Japan had to return both Taiwan and Peghu islands to China. It was as a result of the 1949 war that not only led to the demise of the Kuomintang government but also to its movement from Mainland China to Taiwan, a considered province of China. This was the major point around which all discussions focused at the second Lagos Forum and the Consul General of the PRC, Ms Yan Yuqin, clearly set the tune for the debate. 

In her keynote address to the forum, the Consul General underscored three main points: growth and development of the bilateral ties; consideration of the bilateral relations as a bridge; and commitment of both countries to the maintenance of global peace. As regards the growth and development of the relationship, Ms Yan had it that in 1971, ‘the annual bilateral trade volume was only a few million dollars and by 2006, the figure grew to 3.13 billion dollars, while by 2023 Nigeria has become China’s largest engineering contracting market in Africa, the second largest export market, the third largest trading partner, and a major investment destination country, with the bilateral trade volume reaching a remarkable level of 22.56 billion dollars.’

In considering the bilateral relationship as a bridge, the Consul General is simply and interpretatively saying that both countries are coming from somewhere and heading elsewhere but surely transiting through a bridge. But where or what is the destination? As she put it, the purpose of the meeting is about ‘reviewing the practical cooperation and fruitful results achieved between China and Nigeria over the 53 years on the basis of the One China principle, as well as charting the way forward for the quality enhancement and upgrading of China-Nigeria strategic partnerships.’

On commitment to global peace, especially through promotion of culture, Ms Yan made it clear that ‘China and Nigeria have always been committed to building a world of lasting peace through dialogue and consultation, a world of common security for all through joint efforts, a world of common prosperity through win-win cooperation, an open and inclusive world through exchange and mutual learning, and making our world clean and beautiful by pursuing green and low-carbon development.’ The bridge was defined in terms of mutual trust and need to widen the Chinese-Nigeria Bridge with people-to-people exchange. As the Consul General pledged, ‘we will continue to support Chinese culture being brought into Nigeria and encourage Nigeria’s Afrobeat, the Yoruba-Igbo-Hausa three major ethnic dances, and Nigerian cuisines to be brought into China.’ These points actually set the tune for the inquiry into Taiwan’s future that followed.

What Future for Taiwan?

Views on what the future has for Taiwan were mixed for reasons of psychology of human differences. Associate Professor Efem Ubi of the NIIA rightly recalled that Taiwan was a Prefecture of China under Fujian Province in 1885 and later became a Province of China Qing Dynasty in the 20th Century. This point clearly underscores the fact that, in terms of indigeneity, Taiwan was Chinese and still is in light of the UNGA Resolution 2758 of 1971 which accepted the Government of Mainland China as the only representative of China. The UNGA rejected the notion of two Chinas. 

Again, Associate Professor Ubi, the Acting Director of Research and Studies of the NIIA, rightly differentiated between sovereignty to which the Chinese subscribe and suzerainty, the sermon of which the Western supporters of Taiwan prefer to preach. Unlike sovereignty, which has an absolute character but which can always be delegated or shared, suzerainty, Dr Ubi contended, ‘means the right of a country to control or to partly control another. Suzerainty differs from sovereignty in that the dominant power allows tributary states to be technically independent, but enjoy only a limited self-rule.’ In essence, he is positing that the use of suzerainty as a true reflection of the policy stand of China is wrong and therefore cannot be rightly applicable.

And perhaps most thought-provokingly, he recalled Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s 1962 statement that ‘we have never for instance been neutral in African affairs, nor can we be neutral in matters pertaining to world peace.’ Largely capitalising on the provision of Article 19 (d) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution which obligates Nigeria to have ‘respect for international law and treaty obligations’ in the spirit of pacta sunt servanda, Associate Professor Ubi posited that ‘in spite of Nigeria’s non-aligned posture, its foreign policy logically has never been one of neutrality,’ based on the 1962 statement of Tafawa Balewa. The mere fact that the Prime Minister said Nigeria had never been neutral does not really mean Nigeria had actually been proactively engaged on the side of any major power.

It is important for all scholars of Nigeria’s foreign policy to recognise what was really meant by Nigeria’s non-aligned policy. As made crystal clear on August 20, 1960 in the Prime Minister’s foreign speech, Nigeria shall not blindly follow the lead of any country and that Nigeria’s foreign policy posture shall always be dictated by Nigeria’s national interest. In other words, if Nigeria was never neutral before and after independence in the conduct and management of global questions, it was dictated by the national interest. The statement simply means Nigeria has always been aligned for and against. Consequently, in the event China opts for use of force, contrarily to its declared policy of peaceful settlement, it is the national interest at the time that will dictate. Many scholars wrongly believe that interests are permanent. It is the situational environmental conditionings that often define the nature and character of an interest. The moment the environmental conditioning changes, the interest also changes. Strategic interests should always be differentiated from tactical foreign policy interest.

Grosso modo, virtually all the participants were agreed that China has sovereignty over Taiwan. A former plenipotentiary and extraordinary of Nigeria to China, Ambassador Wole Coker led the discussion in this regard. In reassuring Nigeria’s commitment to One China policy, Ambassador Coker recalled former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s request to the Chinese that China should always take Nigeria along to wherever it is going. In preparation for such a trip with the Chinese, Ambassador Coker advocated more discussion for a greater support for the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration. Nigeria’s support for the One China Policy is unshakeable, he reassured.

Dr Chinyere Almona, FCA, Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, represented by Dr Sunnie Omeiza-Michael, the Director of Research at the LCCI, noted China’s ‘invaluable contribution to Nigeria’s infrastructure development,’ and that ‘China’s investments in Nigeria have catalysed economic diversification and job creation, while Nigerian exports to China have surged, paving the way for a more balanced and mutually beneficial trade relationship. China’s technical assistance and training programs have empowered Nigeria to build capacity across various sectors, from agriculture to healthcare, laying the foundation for self-sufficiency and sustainable development.’

In the good will message of the Chairman of the Nigeria-China Friendship Association (NICAF), Chief Jacob Wood, who was represented by Mr. Ma Feng, a consular agent, the fact of Taiwan being Chinese in every ramification was underscored. Shina Agboluaje, generally seen as a Nigerian-Chinese by virtue of his deep involvement in the promotion of better entente between the two countries, noted that Chinese simply left their land for another land still belonging to the PRC, that the United Nations never accepted the ROC, that most of Taiwanese investments are in Mainland China, that the Taiwanese truly want unity, and therefore argued in favour of peace in the spirit of father-son relationship.

In fact, Messrs. Efe Best Shuaibu, Ikenna Emewu and Dr. Adetoro Olaniyi Banwo spoke eloquently on China’s sovereign ownership of Taiwan and the challenges. Mr. John Bede-Anthonio argued that China ‘will not use force’ in the resolution of the dispute. We do not share this sentiment for two reasons. Order and counter-order have always engendered an encounter, which often leads to disorder when not properly and promptly addressed. Secondly, the war prepared for is quite different from the war imposed on someone. Lessons can be learnt from the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel and the Israeli reciprocal genocidal war.  

In essence, two points should attract further and special reflections: the use of the name ‘Lagos Forum,’ and the eventuality of Chinese use of force in settling the matter. On the use of name, it was given at the first forum on 21st March 2024 at the NIIA. Rather than Lagos Forum, the meeting can be rightly referred to as Chinese Lagos forum or Beijing Lagos forum or still China-Nigeria Forum. A redefinition of the name is necessary to correctly reflect the level of and quality of participants. For example, the name, Lagos Forum, only reflects the venue of meeting, and not that of the participants. Comparatively, Beijing-Lagos Forum as a name, gives a bilateral character and better meaning.

Perhaps more importantly, Lagos Forum already exists as a diplomatico-academic name in international relations, hence the need to avoid being accused of intellectual theft in the near future. Record has it that Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi, CFR, former Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs under General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, not only came up with the idea of enhancing Nigeria’s influence politics by advocating the Concert of Medium Powers (CMP), but also actually convened an international meeting to discuss the matter. For various reasons considered in an attempt not to give the impression of a revolt against the major powers, including the Chinese, the name was changed from CMP to Lagos Forum (LF). This name is being referred to internationally since then. Consequently, there is the need to avoid confusion in the promotion of Nigeria-China relations. Efforts should be quickly made to rename the conference.  

On the use of force to settle the dispute, if Taiwan engages in acts of horror as a result of international aiding and abetting in order to confront Mainland China, will it be wrong if Mainland China reciprocates with an error of terror? Put differently, in the mania of the Israeli-Hamas war in which the October 7, 2023 attack by the Hamas on Israel ignited Israeli genocidal war on the people of Palestine, will the Chinese not behave the Israeli way, despite their declared policy of peaceful settlement of the dispute? Professor Alaba Ogundanwo once theorised that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Can this always be so or true? Beijing says Taiwan is its province. Taiwan responds that it is already an independent state and does not need any formal request or approval from anyone. Thus, there is conflict between the Chinese de jure sovereignty over Taiwan and Taiwanese claim of de facto self-sovereignty. The order of de jure sovereignty versus counter-order of de facto sovereignty not only constitutes a noisome thrombosis in the relationship, but also an expression of disorderly sovereignty, the future of which cannot but be a pointer to belligerency and a bleak future.

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