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São Tomé e Principe - China Relations

China established diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe on July 12, 1975. On May 6, 1997 Sao Tome and Principe Government and the Taiwan authorities signed a joint communiqué on the establishment of the diplomatic relations, declaring that the two sides would establish "diplomatic relations" the following day. Although this action evoked strong repercussions in Sao Tome and Principe and was opposed by the cabinet, the main political parties, and personalities of various circles, the Sao Tome and Principe authorities at the top refused to redress the decision.

On July 11, the charge d'affaires ad interim of the Chinese Embassy in Sao Tome and Principe made solemn representations to the Sao Tome and Principe government. He pointed out that by establishing the so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Sao Tome and Principe totally violated the principles of the joint communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Sao Tome and Principe, as well as the promises made by the Sao Tome and Principe side that "the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China", and severely damaged the foundation of the friendly cooperative relations between the two countries. The Chinese Government lodged severe protests to the Sao Tome and Principe Government, and decided to suspend its diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe on the very day. The implementation of all the agreements between the two governments was also stopped at the same time. After China suspended its diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe, the staff members of the Chinese Embassy, the engineering specialists and the medical team sent by China to Sao Tome and Principe were withdrawn in succession.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Sao Tome and Principe, the bilateral relations have developed smoothly. Pinto Da Costa, the then president of Sao Tome and Principe visited China in 1975 and 1983. President Miguel Dos Anjos Trovoada visited China in June 1993. On the other hand, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Gong Dafei visited Sao Tome and Principe in 1981, followed by Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in 1997.

The Chinese Government provided assistance within its means to Sao Tome and Principe by undertaking projects such as the agricultural development project, the People's Palace, a training center for bamboo and straw weaving, school renovations, etc. The two countries signed a trade agreement, but due to the small size of the domestic market and the shortage of foreign currencies in Sao Tome and Principe, there was not much trade between the two countries and the trade volume was very small.

The two countries signed an agreement on cultural cooperation. A Chinese acrobatic troupe and a song and dance ensemble once visited Sao Tome and Principe. The Sao Tome and Principe football team visited China. From 1985 to 1997, China had received 25 Sao Tome and Principe students, and had sent 12 batches of medical teams, a total of 171 medical workers, to Sao Tome and Principe from 1976 to 1997.

Sao Tome and Principe said in October 2015 it had agreed to build a deep-sea port in partnership with China. Officials say the port will have economic, not military, aims. Equity and lease arrangements for the $800 million deep-sea transshipment hub should be finalized with state-owned China Harbor Engineering Company by May 2016. Sao Tome and Principe Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada told VOA the first stage of construction should be completed by 2018. "I need revenue to provide health and good quality education. We said let us go to a model where, if we have to raise some debt, it is a sustainable debt. If you look not only at the Gulf of Guinea, but at the maritime route going to South America from Asia, a transshipment hub makes sense, but it cannot be a white elephant. That is why we engaged with this Chinese company," said Trovoada.

China's trade with Gulf of Guinea nations exceeded $24 billion in 2013, while the cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has outstripped that of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden since 2012. But Prime Minister Trovoada insists Chinese military use of the Sao Tome port would have to overlap with the interests of his country and its tradition of working with NATO. "Everybody has to be together to fight the threat of piracy, terrorism. If China comes to protect what I call common interests, then fine. If there is not a proportion between what they bring in terms of military force, then we need to question that," he said.

Taiwan and Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe, an ally of Taiwan’s since 1997, cut ties 21 December 2016 and Taiwan followed by disbanding the STP embassy in Taipei and stopping a range of exchanges. The Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council said China used “money diplomacy” to push Sao Tome and Principe to make the break.

Political analysts said China maneuvered to get the African country away from Taiwan and some expected more allies to switch to Beijing over the next year. Taiwan had 21 diplomatic allies compared to more than 170 that recognize China. Most of Taiwan’s are poor countries in Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. They look to Taiwan largely for development aid, and before 2008 the two would offer competing sums to make allies switch sides.

Taiwan and Sao Tome and Principe had maintained close relations for many years. Sao Tome and Principe gained independence from Portugal in July 1975 and established diplomatic relations with the ROC in May 1997, despite opposition from the Government and Parliament. Since then, the ROC has helped the African nation to improve its infrastructure and has engaged in cooperative projects in the areas of health, education, agricultural technology, information technology, and the development of human resources. By 2015 Sao Tome and Principe was one of only three African nations – along with Burkina Faso and Swaziland – to extend diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, not China. Relations with China were poor as a result.

In early October 2012, Américo Barros, one of the vice-presidents of the MLSTP/PSD, publicly read a party communiqué accusing Prime Minister Trovoada of having been implicated in murky government deals related to supposedly top secret offshore operations carried out by Taiwanese vessels in sight of São Tomé’s harbor.

Taiwan was concerned about a visit to China by Sao Tome and Principe President Manuel Pinto da Costa and has asked the African island nation to avoid hurting its long-held diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In a letter dated 04 June 2014, President Pinto da Costa told Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou that the visit to Shanghai was made in a private capacity to solicit investment in Sao Tome and Principe's deep-water harbor and promote the nation's economic development.

Pinto da Costa gave the assurance that he did not engage in any official activities during the visit and would by no means undermine diplomatic relations between his country and the Republic of China, according to the foreign ministry. He also stressed in the letter that he cherished the friendly and cooperative relations with the ROC and will continue to strengthen bilateral relations. The problem with Taiwan-Sao Tome and Principe ties lay mostly with Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa. Since Taiwan has maintained a close relationship with Sao Tomean Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, who holds more power than the president, there was no crisis in the bilateral ties.

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Page last modified: 21-12-2016 16:31:30 ZULU