Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is the only head of state so far to publicly accept the invitation to visit Swaziland for King Mswati III’s 50th birthday.
Taiwan has already donated US$1.3 million to the cost of the so-called 50/50 Celebrations on 19 April 2018 to mark the King’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain.
Taiwan has been cosying-up to Swaziland for many years as the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is only one of 20 countries worldwide that has diplomatic relations with it. Taiwan wants Swaziland to support its campaign to join the United Nations (UN).
Taiwanese companies have set up textile factories in Swaziland and have become known for their poor pay and working conditions.
Taiwan also donates aid to Swaziland. It regularly supplies tens of thousands of pairs of sneakers to women who participate in the annual Reed Dance where ‘maidens’ dance topless in front of the King. It is also spending E260 million (US$21 million) over five years to rebuild the out-patient department of Mbabane Government Hospital.
The Taiwan official news agency CNA reported President Tsai Ing-wen would visit Swaziland with a delegation. ‘During their time in the kingdom, the officials would not only meet with Swazi officials, but would also inspect many of the medical, agricultural and educational initiatives that Taiwan has undertaken in the nation,’ it said.
In 2012 after a visit to Swaziland the former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said the country would ‘conditionally provide assistance’ to the kingdom, but did not publicly reveal what these conditions might be.
Taipei observers know that to get aid from Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China) you have to give it in return international support for its continued diplomatic row with the People’s Republic of China (‘mainland’ China).
Taiwan is generally not recognised in the international community and is not allowed to sit in the UN. Taiwan wants to join the UN and Swaziland has a vote that could be used to support it. Because the People’s Republic of China does not want Taiwan in the UN, few countries support Taiwan. Those, like Swaziland, that do, get ‘friendship’, usually in the form of development aid or hotel trips to Taiwan for newspaper editors and politicians.
Taiwan has a policy of buying friendship with developing countries and Swaziland is one of these ‘friends’.
On his trip, President Ma gave Swaziland 300 notebook computers worth US$300,000 and 1,080 metric tonnes rice worth US$157,400 to help feed the hungry people in Swaziland, where seven in ten people earn less than US$2 a day.
In return, King Mswati gave the President a lavish state banquet and a medal.
In 2008, the Taiwanese President visited Swaziland for the 40/40 Celebrations but the trip did not play well back home. One newspaper columnist Johnny Neihu, writing in the Taipei Times suspected that King Mswati III had only sent out the invitation to Ma so he could tap Taiwan for more money.
He wrote, ‘Should Ma attend, the King will probably turn round as everyone is leaving and ask Ma to help pick up the bar tab, or hit him with a request to help pay for some new gold brocade cushion covers in the presidential palace, or even worse, buy new shoes for all of his children and grandchildren.’
Neihu went on to warn the Taiwanese President to lock up his daughters if he takes up the invitation to visit Swaziland. Or better still, leave them at home.
POOR AND SICK PAY FOR KING’S BIRTHDAY
THE NOT-SO-GENEROUS SWAZI KING
‘SLAVE LABOUR’ AT TEXTILE FACTORY
EXPLOITATION BY TAIWAN TEXTILES
COST OF ‘FRIENDSHIP’ WITH TAIWAN