Taiwan and Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, will establish diplomatic missions in each other’s “capitals”. This was recently reported by the news agency Reuters, citing a statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan Joseph Wu.
According to the agency’s journalists, the cooperation agreement between Taiwan and Somaliland, located in the strategically important region of the Horn of Africa, was signed back in February, but it was not made public.
On June 1, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu announced that the governments of Taiwan and Somaliland “have agreed that the establishment of representative offices will best serve the interests of one another”.
The President of Somaliland Muse Bihi has appointed Mohamed Hagi to head his Taiwanese office. In turn, Taiwan has appointed Taiwan capital Lou Chen-Hwa as its representative in Hargeisa, the capital of the unrecognized African state.
We warmly welcome President @musebiihi's appointment of Amb. Mohamed Omar Hagi Mohamoud as the #Somaliland representative to #Taiwan. A political scientist & senior diplomat, @mohamed_hagi will make a fine addition to the country's diplomatic corps. pic.twitter.com/tEaLN2DX8v
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) July 4, 2020
Moreover, Joseph Wu stopped a step away from finally recognizing Somaliland as a sovereign and independent state.
“They have been recognized by many countries as a very free, democratic country in Africa,” he said. “So, in essence, Somaliland is an independent country.”
However, the official account of Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Somaliland an “ independent country”.
We've 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. We're thousands of miles apart, but share a deep-seated love of freedom & democracy. JW pic.twitter.com/JY78AvXbwS
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) July 1, 2020
Wu did not provide details of any assistance that Taiwan could provide to Somaliland, but said that the African country is rich in energy resources and fishing grounds.
The strategic importance of Somaliland
In May 1991, the independent State of Somaliland was proclaimed in northern Somalia, which has not yet been officially recognized by the international community. Modern Somalia itself was created by the unification of two former European colonies, Italian Somalia and British Somalia. It was the territory of former British Somalia (which formerly belonged to the Ottoman Empire) that separated in 1991, taking the name Somaliland.
The history of Somaliland is linked to British influence. In London, a group of northern clan politicians (especially Isak) formed the opposition “Somali National Movement” in 1981. With the collapse of the Siad Barre military regime in 1991, the SNM was the only organization able to establish power over former British Somalia.
In the ensuing war of all against all on Somali territory and the de facto dissolution of the State, Somaliland became the only de facto state entity to have maintained relative stability on its territory for a long time. However, this stability is also limited: Somaliland does not control the entire territory of former British Somalia.
In 1998, Puntland emerged as an “autonomous State” in the east. There is conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the oilfields in the Sanaag and Sool regions. In these areas, several states which are “independent” but prone to either side of the conflict have emerged and disappeared.
Somaliland lies along the strategic southern coast of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aden), with a coastline that stretches for about 800 km. Port Berbera is the main seaport of Somaliland, and more recently as an important regional port for the Horn of Africa. It is also important for landlocked Ethiopia. During the war with Eritrea, Ethiopia used this port, the unrecognized territory of Somaliland.
The Port of Berbera Directorate plays an important role in the management of international goods arriving and local production leaving the country, being a significant channel for the economy of Somaliland.
Recent investment by Dubai Ports World will improve the Port of Berbera and it will handle more than 100,000 containers per year, which will significantly increase the economy of Somaliland.
There were media reports that the United Arab Emirates was also building a military base in Berbera which included a coastal-surveillance system.
The strategic location of Somaliland is linked to access by ships from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and further to the Suez Canal. This route connects the Pacific region with the Mediterranean and is also used by tankers carrying oil and liquefied gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe.
Nearby Djibouti has several military bases, including French, American, Japanese and Saudi bases. In 2017, China opened the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support in Djibouti.
For Somaliland, as well as for Djibouti, foreign bases are attracting money: the country is “selling” its strategic position. On the other hand, it is a step towards diplomatic recognition.
Somaliland now has offices in 22 countries. In turn, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey, Djibouti, Canada, the European Union and the United Nations have offices in Somaliland.
Somaliland brands itself a beacon of democracy in Africa. The US also uses its leverage to support that image. Freedom House, for example, calls Somaliland the most free country in the Horn of Africa.
Folks at @MapPornTweet may be interested in our newly updated #Somalia territorial control map. Most updates are behind paywall, but his one is free: https://t.co/h8b77qvWMK #geography #maps #Africa #AlShabaab #Galmudug #Puntland #Somaliland pic.twitter.com/x7zDx5oCky
— PolGeoNow (@PolGeoNow) August 14, 2019
Taiwan may open a military base in Somaliland, namely in Berbera, according to media reports.
According to Somaliland media “the Taiwanese government has already established a presence” in Somaliland and Taiwanese military medics are working on the territory of the unrecognized republic.
Although there has been no official confirmation of these plans so far, the establishment of a symbolic base near the Chinese base in Djibouti can be seen as a counterattack by Taipei: in recent months, tensions between mainland China and the breakaway separatist government on Taiwan have increased once again.
“Second phase” of #Somaliland – #Taiwan treaty would allow Taiwan's #military to conduct exercises in Somaliland and even establish a military base in #Berbera. A provocation for #China which hosts its only military base in #Africa in neighboring #Djibouti https://t.co/faTC4aQ1Hb
— Patrick Heinisch (@PatrickHeinisc1) July 4, 2020
China seeks diplomatic isolation from the government of Taiwan, which continues to call itself the “Republic of China” and does not recognize China as a legitimate statehood of China.
After Burkina Faso severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2018, the tiny mountain kingdom of Eswatini remained the last African country to recognize the “Republic of China”.
China does not maintain relations with Somaliland precisely because of the latter’s unrecognized status. This creates opportunities for Taiwan to appear in places where China cannot be present.
In addition, Taiwan, as a US satellite state, may perform functions to strengthen US geopolitical control in areas where the United States is unable to be present for one reason or another.
Another crucial point is that Taipei originally claimed to be the real “Republic of China”, not Beijing. The conflict between Taiwan and mainland China was ideological, not separatist. Until recently, Taiwan has tried to establish relations with internationally recognized states.
However, between 2000-2008 and from 2016 to the present day, Taiwan has been ruled by The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which stands for a separate Taiwanese identity, actually advocating the transformation of the political conflict with China into a separatist struggle and final separation from China.
In 2007, the Republic of China applied to join the UN under the name “Taiwan” rather than “Republic of China Taiwan” as it used to be. A year later, Taiwan recognized the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo. Establishing ties with no-one recognized as the State of Somaliland is a clear symbolic gesture towards full and open separatism. Just as Somaliland does not see itself as part of Somalia, so does the current leadership in Taiwan not see itself as part of China – whether socialist or capitalist.
One of the consequences of strengthening ties between Taiwan and Somaliland may be the strengthening of China’s ties with the Somali Federal Government and China’s active opposition to Somaliland’s recognition on the international arena.
The Horn of Africa will become another hot spot in the geopolitical confrontation between the US and China, where Taiwan will serve as a US proxy.
Subsequent emergence of American military presence in Somaliland can not be ruled out. Thus, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin recently voiced support for this idea. He mentioned rare earth elements deposits in Somaliland and its “modernized Berbera port” and its “renovated airfield” as the reasons to establish military presence here.
On the other hand, the successful story of Somaliland in finding international partners can inspire separatist forces in Africa and around the world. They have been given the signal that if they stand up for American democracy and against China, they may receive partial recognition from an important ally of the United States, if not the US itself.