U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken defends Taiwan after Honduras snaps ties

Blinken announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid to Niger and highlighted U.S. support for a programme to rehabilitate former extremists

Published - March 17, 2023 05:46 pm IST - Niamey

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during an interview with AFP in Niamey on March 16, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during an interview with AFP in Niamey on March 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told AFP that Taiwan had a “lot to offer” the world after Honduras became the latest nation to snap ties with Taipei and recognise Beijing.

Honduras, one of only 14 nations that still recognised Taipei, said it switched sides after Taiwan refused to increase financial aid to the developing country.

“I think it’s in the interest of people to be able to engage in the world. Taiwan has a lot to offer, including, for example, in international institutions, where remarkably talented people have tremendous experience and expertise,” Mr. Blinken said in an interview late Thursday in Niger.

“Countries have to decide for themselves whether and how they want to benefit from that.”

Mr. Blinken said that the United States has offered its “support to people on Taiwan” but that it also stood by its own “One-China “policy of recognising only Beijing.

“Countries have to make their their own sovereign decisions about their foreign policies,” he said. “We leave that to them.”

The United States switched recognition in 1979 to Beijing but supplies weapons for the defence of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing which has not ruled out seizing it by force.

Taiwan officially calls itself the Republic of China, a legacy of the mainland’s nationalists who fled to the island after losing the civil war to the communists.

West has more to offer troubled Sahel than Russia

Mr. Blinken has vowed to broaden support for the violence-wracked Sahel beyond the realm of security, pitching the United States as a better partner than Russia, which has been expanding its footprint in the region.

Mr. Blinken called for moving on from what was often seen as a military-first approach by the United States and former colonial power France, which wound up a controversial nine-year operation in Mali in November.

“We’re in the midst of building something relatively new,” Mr. Blinken said.

“We absolutely have to have a holistic, comprehensive approach in which security is absolutely necessary but is not enough.”

“The fact that Niger, which is obviously one of the poorest countries on earth, is doing this so effectively, I think only underscores the importance of taking this comprehensive approach.”

Mr. Blinken announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid to Niger and highlighted U.S. support for a programme to rehabilitate former extremists as well as a major US initiative to improve irrigation and climate-resilient agriculture in a country battling desertification.

But Mr. Blinken acknowledged the desire for security ties with Niger, where the United States has stationed forces and built Air Base 201 in the desert to fly drones deep into the Sahel.

France also maintains more than 1,000 troops under a long-running anti-jihadist mission, which is being reconfigured following its pullout from neighbouring Mali.

The African Union has voiced concern over the rise of the foreign military presence on the continent, where China also set up its first overseas base in Djibouti.

“These partnerships that we have, it’s not something that we’re imposing on anyone. Countries choose to be partners or not,” Blinken said when asked about the drone base.

“The work that we can do to combat terrorist groups — extremist groups — ultimately will be to the benefit of others” as well as Niger, he said.

‘Bad things tend to follow’

Mr. Blinken’s visit comes as neighbouring Mali swings sharply into Russia’s orbit following the end of France’s Operation Barkhane, which was launched in 2014 to prevent jihadists from sacking the capital Bamako.

Mali is ruled by military putschists who have denounced France and turned to Russian operatives for help — Wagner mercenaries, according to France and others.

Mali last month was one of just six nations that joined Russia at the UN General Assembly in voting against a call for Moscow to pull out of Ukraine.

“Everywhere Wagner goes, bad things tend to follow,” Mr. Blinken said.

“Where we have seen it act, it hasn’t improved security. On the contrary, we’ve actually seen things get worse, and the exploitation of resources, the corruption, the violence that it brings are a plague on people in the countries that have chosen to work with it.”

Wagner, run by the Kremlin-connected businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been accused of abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and most recently in the Ukraine war.

Ghana has alleged a Wagner presence in military-ruled Burkina Faso but both the junta and Moscow have denied the charge and Blinken did not directly answer a question on the issue.

A senior official travelling with Blinken said it was no accident that Wagner had thrived in French-speaking nations, saying Russia had fanned post-colonial resentments.

Mr. Blinken said he believed the United States and France were united on a new approach to West Africa that emphasises democracy, development and good governance.

“The challenge for everyone -- us, France, our partners -- is to show through the work we’re doing together that we can get results that benefit the people,” Blinken said.

“If you have profound problems of insecurity, there has to be an answer to them. And if there is no answer to them, then groups like Wagner will try to plunge in and take advantage.”

Blinken hopes Nigeria addresses election grievances legally

Mr. Blinken also voiced hope that Nigeria will follow its own legal processes to ease tensions after disputed presidential elections.

“Nigeria is an incredibly vibrant democracy,” Mr. Blinken told AFP in an interview late Thursday in its northern neighbour Niger.

“To the extent that there are concerns, problems, there is a process, institutions — a legal process to follow — to prosecute those concerns,” Mr. Blinken said.

“That’s what we would expect as Nigeria moves forward.”

Electoral authorities declared Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress the winner to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari in May after a vote that was mostly peaceful but marred by long delays and technical glitches.

Opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, who came in second, has led protests alleging fraud.

Third-placed Peter Obi has also rejected the results and said he would go to court to prove to Nigerians that he won.

The election tensions in Africa’s most populous nation come as the United States seeks to expand cooperation across the continent, where China and Russia have made inroads.

The United States has congratulated Tinubu as president-elect but called for the election commission to address concerns.

Blinken says reforms require ‘consensus’ amid Israel protests

Mr. Blinken said that major reforms require consensus, as Israel is rocked by protests over a bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remake the nation’s judiciary.

Mr. Blinken said that while the United States would not take sides on details of proposals in the “very vibrant democracy of Israel,” finding “consensus is the best way forward”.

“One thing that we know from our own experience as democracies is that when you’re looking to make big changes — major reforms — in your laws, your institutions, consensus is maybe the most important thing,” he said in the interview in Niger.

Consensus is key to “making sure that you have something that’s not only accepted, but that it also will last — is durable.”

Netanyahu’s new hard-right government has proposed major reforms that include allowing lawmakers to scrap supreme court rulings with a simple majority vote.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets and Israeli President Isaac Herzog has warned that the proposal could ignite a civil war, but Netanyahu has rejected a proposed compromise.

Some critics allege that Netanyahu is pushing through the reforms to protect himself as he fights corruption charges.

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