Yes, China Has Re-established Ties With The Gambia. Now Calm Down

As a post-modern state, Taiwan should not worry too much about its official diplomatic allies, many of which are micro-states. It must instead focus on substance with countries of influence
Photo: Xinhua News Agency
J. Michael Cole

The rumors, which had been circulating for a while, were confirmed early in the evening of March 17. China was resuming diplomatic ties with The Gambia. The African country had been in political limbo since November 2013, when it had severed ties with Taipei only to be spurned by Beijing, ostensibly because the Chinese government did not want to shatter the “diplomatic truce” it had struck with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Now the question on everybody’s lips is whether Beijing’s apparent change of heart constitutes a “warning” to Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who will assume the presidency on May 20, and signals an end to the informal arrangement whereby the two sides of the Taiwan Strait wouldn’t “steal” diplomatic allies from each other. The short answer is maybe, but even if that were the case, there is no reason for Taiwan to panic.

It is important to point out that Thursday’s breakthrough didn’t in itself sound the death knell of the truce between Taipei and Beijing. What Beijing did wasn’t steal a diplomatic ally of Taiwan, because The Gambia hadn’t been one since late 2013. Moreover, states have every right to look after their interests, and we can be pretty certain that Banjul, which had been left out to dry after dropping Taipei, had been knocking at doors in Beijing for quite a while.

If Beijing’s intention by resuming ties with The Gambia was indeed to pressure Tsai ahead of her inauguration and to score a few psychological points, then it should also be noted that it also wins itself an impoverished country whose relationship will be primarily parasitical. According to the CIA World Factbook, The Gambia ranks No. 182 globally in terms of GDP (China is first, and Taiwan 21st). Just as it was when Banjul had ties with Taipei, this will be mostly a one-way street in which The Gambia takes from its ally — and that is infrastructure investment, which given the nature of the Jammeh regime almost ensures that it will be misappropriated and end up in the bank accounts of senior officials. Furthermore, with the British newspaper, the Independent, once referring to it as “a cripplingly poor country ruled by fear,” The Gambia is probably a more natural ally of China than Taiwan, whose continued relations with despotic regimes in some of the darkest places of the earth contradicted the liberal democratic norms that define it.


J. Michael Cole is the editor-in-chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, and an associate researcher with the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei. The views expressed in this article are his alone. This article originally appeared in The News Lens International on March 18, 2016.

3 Responses to “Yes, China Has Re-established Ties With The Gambia. Now Calm Down”

March 22, 2016 at 7:53 pm, Mike Fagan said:

Gambia’s main export is (literally) peanuts.


March 29, 2016 at 9:34 pm, R said:



J. Michael Cole

March 29, 2016 at 9:38 pm, J. Michael Cole said:

Oops. Thank you; fixed.


Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive language, personal attacks or self-promotion will not be published. We encourage healthy discussion and, above all, tolerance of other's views.