President Ruto has underscored Kenya’s continued commitment to the One-China policy at their bilateral meeting in Beijing, China with Xi Jinping.
The one-China policy came up in the talks even though the two leaders also covered trade, infrastructure development, and collaboration in the digital sector.
“Kenya is firmly committed to the one-China policy, supports China’s rightful position on human rights and other issues, and hopes to learn from China’s successful experience in development,” read a dispatch released by the China Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The brief quotes President Ruto as saying that during the 60 years since Kenya and China established diplomatic ties, both sides have consistently shown mutual respect and trust.
President Xi stressed that China is willing to share its expertise in governance with Kenya and that it supports Kenya’s independent exploration of its path of modernization in keeping with the country’s current condition.
The two sides also agreed to deepen practical cooperation and people-to-people exchanges with China to promote the steady development of Kenya-China comprehensive strategic partnership as well as Africa-China relations.
The Taiwan Question: Diplomatic Hot Potato for Beijing
The issue of Taiwan featured prominently in these discussions. Taiwan is a diplomatic conundrum for Beijing, representing a critical foreign policy priority. Recent engagements between Kenyan and Taiwanese figures within Nairobi and President Ruto’s interactions with leaders from a breakaway state in southeastern Europe prompted Beijing to react.
Kenya’s Stance and the One-China Policy
Kenya’s firm adherence to the One-China Policy is not new. However, recent developments raised questions about the potential influence of these interactions on the country’s foreign policy. President Ruto’s administration had been seen as open to exploring broader diplomatic relationships.
Earlier interactions between the former president of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Richard Ngatia, and Chenhwa Lou, a Taiwan Representative based in Somaliland hinted at a willingness to expand economic and diplomatic cooperation. These discussions sparked interest from Beijing and underscored the delicate nature of Kenya’s international alliances.
During the March and April meetings, the then-chamber president highlighted the importance of strengthening ties between Kenya and Taiwan. Ngatia emphasised that Nairobi is an attractive destination for foreign investment, and Taiwanese investors can benefit greatly from the country’s strategic location, skilled workforce, and abundant natural resources.
Quagmire Over Kosovo Ties
President Ruto’s camaraderie with leaders from Kosovo, a breakaway state in southeastern Europe further drew attention to Kenya’s stance on non-traditionally recognized regions. In particular, this interaction with a state that is not universally recognized raised eyebrows in Beijing.
For context, China currently claims Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China, whereas the current Taiwanese leadership maintains that Taiwan is already an independent country as the Republic of China and thus does not have to push for any sort of formal independence.
And just like Kosovo, and Somaliland- Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations (UN) or its sub-organisations, but it aspires to participate.
China opposes this and it argues, that only sovereign states can enjoy membership in the UN. Beijing has succeeded in this endeavor.
President Ruto’s attempts to cut ties with Western Sahara, an African Union member state, Kenya’s recognition of Kosovan passports, and appointment of an ambassador to Hargeisa, Somaliland continue to spark a flurry of reactions.
For starters, Somaliland, a self-declared autonomous region in northern Somalia, has long sought international recognition as a sovereign state.
However, this quest has faced resistance from the international community, with no foreign power officially acknowledging Somaliland’s sovereignty, although some maintain unofficial political relations with the region.
Kenya has adhered to a policy that views Somalia as a single entity with federal regions operating under autonomous administrations, a stance it continues to uphold.
Nevertheless, an incident in June drew attention to Kenya’s delicate diplomatic dance. At that time, Somaliland’s flag was inadvertently present during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s annual diplomatic address in Nairobi, leading to a formal protest and walkout by Somalia’s Ambassador to Kenya, Mohamud Ahmed Nur.
In response, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its recognition of the sovereignty of a unified Federal Somalia Government and the integrity of the Federal Somali state.
There is a common thread between the Somaliland issue and the broader international dynamics, notably involving Taiwan.
China maintains a strict “One-China” policy, which asserts that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. This stance is rooted in historical and legal bases that China regards as unassailable.
It views the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China, actively pursuing Taiwan’s eventual reunification with the mainland.
This is the foundation of diplomatic relations China established with other countries including Kenya.
“The de facto basis for the one-China principle is unshakable. Taiwan has belonged to China since ancient times. The earliest references to this effect date back to the year 230,” Beijing maintains.
It is against this background that the Ngatia-Chenhwa meeting in Nairobi might be revisited during President Ruto’s talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Notably, Kenya does not have official relations with Taiwan and considers the island part of China, in line with Beijing’s position.
It, however, hosts the Taiwan Trade Centre, Nairobi. Founded in 1970, TAITRA describes itself as “Taiwan’s foremost non-profit trade promoting organisation” that is “sponsored by the government and industry organisations” to assist enterprises in expanding their global reach.
In April 2016, Kenya deported two groups of Taiwanese to China after they were acquitted in a cybercrime case, a move that drew protestations from Taipei.
The Kenyan government said the people were in Kenya illegally and were being sent back to where they had come from.
Amina Mohamed, the foreign minister at the time told Reuters that Kenya does not have official relations with Taiwan.
“We believe in the ‘One-China’ Policy. We have diplomatic relations with China. We haven’t seen the official protest, we are hearing it from the media,” Amina said.
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