Taiwan opened with great fanfare a representative office in the breakaway state of Somaliland on Aug. 17, highlighting the alleged shared beliefs existing between two de facto sovereign territories that are denied widespread international recognition.
President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the announcement as “an important milestone” for their bilateral partnership in a Tweet the following day, stressing that Taiwan and Somaliland are “bound together by our shared values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law, ideals that will guide our future cooperation.”
Most people did not notice an important omission in the president’s speech though: press freedom. Why? All Taiwan people believe that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, should be exercised freely.
Well, Somaliland authorities do not think that way, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists, amid reports that local police closed two major television stations in the capital Hargeisa in late June.
French public radio RFI quoted Somaliland Minister of Information Suleiman Yusuf Ali for the alleged reason why one of the stations, Universal TV, was suddenly shut down: It did not broadcast Somaliland President Muse Bihi’s address to mark the independence of the country from Britain.
These incidents highlight the government’s tight control over the Somaliland media landscape. Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the continuing detention of a journalist who was arrested on May 24 after asking an embarrassing question at a press conference and urged the Somaliland authorities to free him at once and to respect the freedom to inform.
Regretfully, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who fought tooth and nail for Taiwan press freedom, has turned a blind eye again to the actions of a foreign government in its search for international recognition and short-term political gains.
Despite the government claims, the “shared beliefs” between Somaliland and Taiwan are largely invisible as the Somaliland government imposes strict censorship on news media, especially when it comes to its territorial disputes with the neighboring Somali state Puntland.
Such short-sighted political vision, also called “political myopia,” highlights a lack of discernment and imagination among Taiwan political leaders that usually paves the way for their “grand prophetic vision” to eventually become delusion.
We can expect that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will soon announce a series of economic incentives for our new diplomatic partner to help overcome endemic poverty and famine, before announcing a presidential visit that will further cement bilateral ties.
The question is not whether Somaliland needs and deserves Taiwan help though; we all agree that Taiwan can help and Taiwan is helping. But Taiwan authorities should first acknowledge that long-lasting friendships are the hallmark of successful diplomatic and economic ties, not the other way around.
The risk is that pushing red envelopes for the sake of diplomatic gains with a questionable government could undermine rather than reinforce Taiwan’s moral argument in its diplomatic tug-of-war with China in which each side tries to woo the other’s allies with various incentives.
To this end, Taiwan should think twice before turning a blind eye to Somaliland’s media crackdown, especially as our government is extending its support to Hong Kong people in their rightful fight for freedom and democracy.