Taiwan and Somaliland are both de facto independent democratic states claimed by larger countries, but struggling for broad diplomatic recognition.
Essa Kayd Mohamoud, the foreign minister of the unrecognized state of Somaliland, accused the Chinese government of attempting to shape its foreign relations during a goodwill trip to Taiwan on Friday.
Ties between Somaliland and Taiwan have blossomed in recent years. Each is a de facto independent state and mostly democratic, but claimed by a larger neighboring country. Although Somaliland has enjoyed considerable autonomy from Somalia, the East African nation that officially regards it as a northern province, it unofficially conducts much of its own foreign relations and has attracted foreign investment, including from Taiwan, separately from the rest of Somalia. The two quasi-nations opened “representation offices,” which essentially function as embassies, in each other’s capitals in 2020.
Beijing, which has pursued considerable investments of its own in Africa, reacted to the visit with hostility, accusing Taipei of attempting to bolster regional secessionism. However, Kayd insisted that Somaliland would be free to pursue its own diplomacy independent of Chinese demands.
“Somaliland is a sovereign country,” the foreign minister said. “We were born free, we will stay free, and we will own our business the way we want it. China cannot dictate. Other countries cannot dictate.”
Kayd did not rule out commercial interactions with Beijing, but insisted that any trade partners “respect our integrity as a sovereign country.” He also said Somaliland is “open to everybody … who come and want to do business with us, without any strings or conditions.”
Kayd’s goodwill visit, which also included Somaliland’s finance minister and several other high-level officials, comes as Somaliland has sought to bolster its foreign investment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During his visit with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen earlier in the week, the foreign minister highlighted opportunities for economic cooperation, including hydrocarbon extraction off of Somaliland’s coast and coal mining in its interior. Coal, oil, and gas are three of Taiwan’s largest imports, making the establishment of a reliable energy supply chain a vital priority for the island’s government.
Somalia has also criticized the growing Taiwan-Somaliland ties, accusing Taipei of engaging in a “reckless attempt” to undermine its sovereignty over the north.
Taiwan, which once enjoyed broad recognition in Africa, has seen most nations withdraw their recognition of it in favor of mainland China. Currently, only Eswatini in Africa’s far south maintains full diplomatic relations with Taipei, although the island has established a number of representative offices elsewhere on the continent.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.