Credit: Image by Ronny K from Pixabay

The entire country was caught by surprise when the United States embassy in Guyana congratulated government for allowing Taiwan to establish a trade and investment office that would have effectively functioned as a diplomatic mission here despite the fact that long term rival, China, is well entrenched here and perennially opposes any such relations with its breakaway province. 

Until that mid last week tweet from the U.S. mission, no one in the Caribbean Community headquarter nation had been aware that authorities had secretly granted permission to the Taiwanese to establish a permanent office in Guyana that had already been functioning since Jan. 15, four days after documents had been inked to operationalize it. 

The apparent deliberate exposure of the deal by the Americans blew up spectacularly in the face of the administration of President Irfaan Ali with cabinet ministers struggling to explain that the office was intended only to function as a trade and investment facilitation post, not one to administer diplomatic functions. 

But utterances out of the very mouth of officials in Taipei only added to the amount of eggs on the face of governing party officials in Georgetown as Taiwanese officials boasted that they had finally succeeded in getting a foothold in northern South America that could service this part of the continent as well as the South Caribbean along the lines that its Paraguay mission does in the south. 

As local and international media hounded officials for explanations, Foreign Minister Hugh Todd patiently and painstakingly tried to smooth over the diplomatic humiliation, noting that “the idea was to allow them to establish an office to facilitate trade and investment only and I say only for trade. For us this was just a market opportunity for the two private sectors to conduct business but there are some geo politics involved here as well.” 

Hours after he tried to explain away the secret deal, his ministry put out a statement of clarification, announcing that cabinet had decided to rescind the deal and send the Taiwanese packing. This, of course, followed a spirited meeting with acting Chinese Ambassador Chen Xilai and Todd. 

Of the 15 nations in the Caricom trade bloc, most support the region’s “One China” policy, meaning that they recognize mainland China rather than Taiwan and that Taiwan or the Republic of China is a breakaway province of China and should not be recognized by regional governments. The Taiwanese were therefore quickly shown the door amid protests from the Chinese and opposition criticism of the move given China’s strong diplomatic and investment presence in Guyana. The announcement came in a terse official statement.  

“The government of Guyana wishes to clarify that it continues to adhere to the “One China” policy and its diplomatic relations remain intact with the People’s Republic of China. The government has not established any diplomatic ties or relations with Taiwan and as a result of the miscommunication of the agreement signed, this agreement has since been terminated,” the official announcement stated. 

Several regional governments, St. Lucia and Grenada among them, have over the years switched sides. As a bloc, countries are encouraged––not forced––to deal more with China but Taipei has been able to barely survive with its limited foothold in the region over the decades. 

For its part, the rather deliberate tweet to alert Guyanese about the covert diplomatic office stated that “deepening ties between Guyana and Taiwan will advance their shared goals of prosperity and security. The United States remains committed to supporting Taiwan as it expands its international partnerships and works to address global challenges, including COVID-19.”