Barely two days after Gambia resumed ties with China, the leader of the West African nation’s opposition has sought to underline that the country’s two decades of diplomatic ties with Taiwan were a mistake because there is “only one China”. Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, President Yahya Jammeh’s biggest political rival since 1994, said Gambia had very “fruitful relations” with China before Jammeh came to power.
“Since the independence of this country, the people have always believed in one China. This reflects the policy direction of our party, the United Democratic Party,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“We should never have cut ties with China in the first place. There can only be one China. What did surprise me though was what changed in the foreign policy direction of the ruling APRC [Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction].”
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Gambian counterpart Neneh MacDouall-Gaye signed a joint communique to resume diplomatic relations after a more than ten year gap — a development Wang called a “historic moment” for the two nations.
Chinese officials told a daily news briefing Thursday that Gambia’s leaders underlined that the resumption of ties is in the interests of all Gambians, stating that the country had thus made the right decision.
The two countries established formal diplomatic links in 1974 but China suspended relations in 1995 when Gambia resumed diplomatic ties with Taiwan — a small island 180 kilometres east of China that some countries see as a sovereign state, but China sees as a breakaway province that will eventually return.
However, Gambia severed ties with Taiwan in 2013, saying it was for the “strategic national interest”.
Gambia’s government recognizes that there is only one China, that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is part of China, the joint communique stated.
“Gambia’s relations with China were very fruitful during the first republic and we hope that their resumption will be of mutual benefit of both countries. The two countries can collaborate in the areas of agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure development,” Darboe said.
He added, however: “I hope China does not also come in and go into checkbook diplomacy with The Gambia as was happening with Taiwan.”
Independent political analyst Essa Njie told Anadolu Agency that the resumption of ties with China might also help Gambia in the area of technology transfer.
Gambia’s government recently increased agricultural investment towards ensuring self-sufficiency in food production, and Njie said the country’s collaboration with China might help boost production.
“The Gambia government has spent huge money in agriculture to attain food self-sufficiency but we have not gotten anywhere. China could help in that regard to boost agricultural production, if they could help the country with some modern farming technology,” he said.
Human rights groups have frequently pointed the finger at China for relations with countries run by what they have referred to as “dictatorial regimes”, claiming that support comes without conditions such as respect for the rule of law and good governance.
However, Darboe said that China’s unconditional loans and grants cannot be blamed for the poor human rights status of any country.
“There is no problem if China does not attach conditions of respect for the rule of law and good governance to its grants or loans,” he said.
“It was the Chinese who built the only stadium in this country, and this happened at a time when Gambia was the champion of human rights in Africa.”
Written By Mustapha K Darboe