“This is the first step of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Somaliland, and we will move from there,” said Deputy Minister Liban Yusuf Osman

Taiwan has agreed to set up a diplomatic office in the unrecognized, but strategically important, African state of Somaliland in a possible move towards full diplomatic relations that is likely to enrage China, which has invested heavily in building deep bilateral relationships in Africa.

“This is the first step of diplomatic relations between the two countries and we will move from there,” said Liban Yusuf Osman, Somaliland’s deputy foreign minister. Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, would soon send a representative to open an office in Taipei, he said.


While Somaliland has diplomatic representation in more than a dozen countries around the world, including the UK, US, and Ethiopia, no country currently recognizes it as an independent state.

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Taiwan And Somaliland Risk China’s Ire With Bilateral Ties
Foreign minister Joseph Wu said the co-operation with Somaliland was a continuation of Taiwan’s efforts to work with countries with shared values © David Chang/EPA/Shutterstock

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, said the two states were building bilateral ties “based on shared values”.

“We look forward to opening representative offices in both countries to expand mutually beneficial cooperation,” she said in a statement on Twitter.

Taiwan is a de facto independent state but is claimed by China as part of its territory.

The Horn of Africa, where Somaliland is located, is one of the most strategically contested parts of the world. The region serves as a political and cultural bridge between Africa and the Middle East and borders the Red Sea — a gateway to the Suez Canal and a vital corridor for maritime trade.

Taiwan And Somaliland Establish Diplomatic Ties, Bucking Pressure From China
In this photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, left, shows the way to his counterpart from Somaliland, Yasin Hagi Mohamoud, inside the Taipei Guest House where they sign an agreement for setting up representative offices in their respective territories in Taipei on Feb. 26,2020. Taiwan has scored a rare diplomatic victory in establishing relations with the independent region of Somaliland, according to a July 1, 2020 post on the on the Taiwanese foreign ministry’s website. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

The US, China, Japan, France, and Italy all have military bases in neighboring Djibouti, while Middle Eastern states including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey have established competing port infrastructure along Africa’s Red Sea coast in Djibouti, Somaliland, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan.

For Taiwan, diplomatic cooperation with Somaliland is part of a pushback against ever-stronger Chinese influence around the world, which has constrained its room for maneuver.

It comes as praise from fellow democracies for Taiwan’s successful containment of coronavirus has failed to translate into tangible diplomatic results. When the EU reopened its borders to tourists from some countries this week, Taiwan was absent from the list, although the country counts as one of the safest in the world in terms of coronavirus risk.

Taiwan and Somaliland Risk China’s Ire With Bilateral Ties
Somaliland has diplomatic representation in more than a dozen countries but currently no country recognizes it as an independent state © Eric Lafforgue/Corbis/Getty

Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister, described the cooperation with Somaliland as a continuation of Taiwan’s efforts to work with countries with shared values. “They are a democracy, they have had three successful presidential elections and they have transfers of power,” he said.

Mr. Wu stressed that Taipei and Hargeisa treated each other as sovereign countries, adding that Somaliland’s rich mineral resources could be of interest to Taiwan.

Mr. Osman said the two states would cooperate in several areas, including security, agriculture, education, fisheries, technology, and governance.

“Somaliland is in a very strategic location along the Red Sea and there is always a threat of terror and violence,” said the deputy foreign minister. “Taiwan is a very developed country with very developed maritime forces and we are looking forward to cooperating in that sector.”

Only 15 countries recognize Taiwan after several of its allies switched their recognition to Beijing under strong diplomatic pressure from China. In Africa, only the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, recognizes Taiwan after Burkina Faso re-established relations with Beijing in 2018.

“There are very strong geopolitical considerations at play,” said Murithi Mutiga, an analyst at Crisis Group, of the closer ties between Somaliland and Taiwan. “This just emphasizes that Great Power competition is playing out in the Horn of Africa.”

Mr. Osman said Somaliland understood “the political issue” between China and Taiwan but was not afraid of Beijing’s reaction. “We are dealing with Taiwan as a country but we are willing to deal with China. There is no obstacle,” he said. “If China is willing to open their office, we will welcome them.”

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