Introduction

The 1961 Vienna Convention1 establishes a comprehensive framework for initiating, concluding, and sustaining diplomatic relations based on mutual consent among sovereign states. International diplomacy typically obliges countries to adhere to established diplomatic protocols that emphasize formal state-to-state interactions. In contemporary international relations, unique scenarios arise when entities such as Somaliland and Taiwan, which are not internationally recognized as sovereign states, engage in diplomacy. Taiwan and Somaliland are linked by the emerging construct of the Indo-Pacific, unveiled by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016 in Kenya2, and the People’s Republic of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013.3

Historically, the non-recognition of Taiwan stems from the Chinese Civil War’s aftermath, where the Republic of China (ROC) government retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing control of the People’s Republic of China to the Communist Party, which established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since then, the PRC has asserted its claim over Taiwan, leading to most countries recognizing the PRC and severing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This stance is encapsulated in the “One China” policy, which posits that there is only one sovereign state under the name China.4

Similarly, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime. Despite its establishment of a stable government and regular elections, it remains unrecognized by any country due to the international community’s adherence to Somalia’s territorial integrity.5 This non-recognition has left Somaliland in a unique diplomatic position, seeking informal ties and leveraging strategic alliances.

The emergent construct of the Indo-Pacific, especially in the Japanese version, spans from the Horn of Africa to the Pacific Ocean while remaining state-centric. Taiwan has been enthusiastic about joining the US-Japan initiatives for the Indo-Pacific constructed, demonstrated by their launching of the “Africa project” in 2019.6 However, the focus on the US-China competition often overlooks other ways of imagining the area, including the potential contribution of Indigenous peoples and other non-state actors.7

Taiwan and Somaliland’s strategic cooperation highlights alternative diplomatic engagements beyond traditional state-centric paradigms. Both regions emphasize people-centered diplomatic strategies and leverage their unique positions to foster bilateral relations. This cooperation underscores the potential of non-state-centric approaches in shaping future international relations amidst the broader geopolitical dynamics of the Indo-Pacific and BRI.

These entities are compelled to adopt innovative practices in conducting their international relations, such as fostering subtle, people-centered engagements rather than formal diplomatic ties.8 This strategic maneuvering enables them to navigate the complexities associated with their ambiguous international standing. It also facilitates inter-societal connections that are crucial for mutual development and international solidarity.

Somaliland and Taiwan relations are shaped by people-to-people rather than state-to-state interactions. This approach is embodied through the establishment of two special offices—the “Taiwan Representative Office” in Hargeisa on August 17, 2020, and the “Somaliland Representative Office” in Taipei on September 9, 2020. These offices operate under a “representative” nomenclature that strategically avoids the term ’embassy’ to mitigate issues surrounding international recognition.9

The burgeoning relationship between these two entities represent a strategic alignment that leverages their shared democratic values and developmental aspirations, enhancing their positions on the global stage. This paper explores the “people-to-people” nature of the Somaliland-Taiwan relationship by dissecting how their non-traditional diplomatic initiatives, cooperative development programs, and educational and cultural exchanges form the cornerstone of their foreign policies. It also provides insights into how non-recognized states can engage in meaningful diplomacy that transcends the conventional limitations imposed by the traditional frameworks of international relations.

Theoretical Framework

 The study of diplomacy, traditionally viewed through the lens of formal state-to-state interactions, has undergone substantial theoretical and methodological expansions. Historical perspectives, such as those offered by Ragnar Numelin,10 suggest that the roots of diplomacy extend as far back as ancient relationships, comparable in complexity to those of “primitive” societies. This historical depth underscores that while the formalization of diplomacy as an inter-state institution and professional function is relatively recent, the practice itself is age-old.

Contemporary anthropology of diplomacy further enriches this perspective by focusing on inter-individual relationships, everyday activities, and the representations diplomats construct both in their professional functions and daily lives. This approach aligns with Costas Constantinou’s (1996, 2012)11 concept of “everyday diplomacy,” which he asserts can be observed not only in the grand acts of treaty negotiations and state functions but also in mundane interactions, such as social gatherings and online communications (Cornago, 2013).12

Historical Context and the Evolution of Diplomatic Practices

The transformation of diplomacy—from a closed professional guild, accessible only to a select aristocratic few, into a more open and regulated profession—is a relatively modern development. This evolution is marked by the establishment of competitive entry exams, formal training institutions, and the creation of embassies. Hendely Bull (1997)13 and Martin Wight (1979)14 discuss the emergence of a “diplomatic culture” primarily framed within Western norms and sustained by international law, notably the Vienna Convention of 1969. This culture has been pivotal in shaping the modern diplomatic ethos, characterized by core values of discretion, temperance, and mediation.

Furthermore, the portrayal of diplomats in cultural artifacts, such as Hans Holbein’s 1533 painting The Ambassadors, enriches our understanding of the diplomat’s role throughout history. The painting not only highlights the diplomatic importance of Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve, who are captured with regal austerity, but also symbolizes the broader intellectual and cultural dimensions of early diplomatic roles.

Non-Traditional Diplomatic Engagements: Taiwan and Somaliland 

The non-traditional theoretical framework is particularly pertinent when examining the diplomatic interactions between Taiwan and Somaliland. Both entities, which are not recognized by the United Nations, engage in what might be considered non-traditional diplomatic practices. Their relationship, established formally in 2020, challenges conventional notions of international diplomacy, being predicated not on recognition by the UN but upon shared strategic and developmental goals (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China, 2020).

Their diplomatic engagement, therefore, provides an example of how unrecognized states navigate the complexities of global diplomacy outside of the traditional frameworks defined by international law and the UN. This interaction underscores the adaptability of diplomatic practices, expanding the scope of international relations beyond the confines of formal recognition, and illustrating the potential for strategic alliances based on mutual interest rather than formal diplomatic acknowledgment.

Non-Traditional Diplomacy and Representative Offices

Diplomatic relations between Somaliland and Taiwan were established following a significant agreement signed by their foreign ministers on February 26, 2020, in Taipei. This event marked a pivotal moment in their diplomatic relations, as they sought to navigate the complex terrain of international politics in spite of formal state recognition.

Furthermore, the relationship was solidified through mutual displays of diplomatic and cultural respect, such as the unveiling of the Somaliland office plate by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Somaliland’s representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Hagi, in a ceremony in Taipei on September 9, 2020. Such actions underscore the depth of their bilateral, people-to-people relations and the shared values that underpin their diplomatic interactions, setting a precedent that could potentially be emulated by other non-recognized states seeking meaningful international engagement (Focus Taiwan, 2020).15

Leveraging Shared Values and Stability

Somaliland and Taiwan have capitalized on their distinctive political systems and shared democratic values to bolster their international standing. Somaliland’s “pastoral democracy,” which blends traditional clan-based governance with modern democratic processes, offers a model of stability and participatory governance. This system, detailed in Ioan Lewis’s study, A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (2021),16 showcases how such governance structures stand in stark contrast to the more centralized, and often tumultuous, political landscapes typical of the Horn of Africa.

Similarly, Taiwan presents itself as a beacon of progressive democracy in East Asia. Its vibrant civil society and successful democratic processes, institutionalized since its separation from the People’s Republic of China in 1949, serve as a model for participatory governance in the region. The resilience of Taiwan’s political system is further underscored by the country’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its international presence and relationships, as evidenced by the establishment of the Taiwan Representative Office in Hargeisa on February 26, 2020.

This strategic alignment of diplomatic relations, based on the establishment of representative offices in each other’s capitals, facilitates developmental cooperation and cultural exchanges, while advancing security and stability in their respective areas. Taiwan’s approach, particularly its efforts at expanding its presence on Africa through partnerships like that with Somaliland, illustrates a strategic pivot to diversify its international relations and reduce its diplomatic isolation, a move discussed during the unveiling of the Somaliland office plate in Taipei by Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Somaliland representative Mohamed Hagi on September 9, 2020 (Cabestan, 2021).

Impactful, Non-Political Programs in Somaliland-Taiwan Cooperation

Taiwan has extended educational support to Somaliland through scholarships that enable Somaliland students to study in Taiwanese institutions. Announced in 2020,17 these scholarships cover fields such as engineering, healthcare, medical management, water conservation, and tropical agriculture, crucial for Somaliland’s developmental needs. Such initiatives are pivotal in building foundational relationships between the communities and future leaders of both regions, fostering a mutual understanding that transcends diplomatic formalities.

In terms of agricultural development, Taiwan has leveraged its expertise to aid Somaliland’s agricultural sector. A notable project includes the establishment of a demonstration farm 45 km outside Hargeisa, initiated shortly after the diplomatic agreement.18 This farm aims to enhance the production and quality of local agricultural products by introducing advanced Taiwanese agricultural practices and technologies.

Taiwan has made significant strides in bolstering Somaliland’s technological infrastructure. In March 2021, a comprehensive information-technology cooperation agreement19 was signed to upgrade Somaliland’s government digitization efforts. This project includes extensive training for local staff and upgrading internet management systems to support e-government initiatives. These efforts to enhance cultural exchanges have been instrumental in strengthening the people-to-people relations between Taiwan and Somaliland. Although less documented, such initiatives aim to build mutual understanding and respect at the grassroots level, thereby solidifying the non-political foundation of their interactions.

A notable example of such an initiative was the cultural expo of Somaliland during the African Cultural Festival 2023, spearheaded by Taiwan Medical University’s (TMU) Office of Global Engagement.20 The festival, held from May 1 to 12, showcased Africa’s rich mosaic of traditions, beliefs, and art forms. The festival also featured vibrant performances, informative forums, and a strong diplomatic presence. Eminent dignitaries, including His Excellency Promise Sithembiso Msibi, Ambassador of Eswatini, and His Excellency Mohamed Hagi, the Somaliland ambassador to Taiwan, attended the occasion. Their presence underscored the deep-rooted ties and mutual admiration shared between Taiwan and its African allies, highlighting how the festival was more than just a celebration; it was a testament to the power of cultural exchanges and the deepening ties between Taiwan and Somaliland.

The “people-to-people” model has not only helped both entities navigate their complex international contexts, but has also ensured that their interactions have significant, positive impacts on the ground. These developmental initiatives underscore Taiwan’s commitment to providing practical support that enhances the quality of life in Somaliland, thus strengthening bilateral ties and positively shaping Taiwan’s international image.

Role of Foreign Ministers and Non-Presidential Signatories

In the nuanced sphere of international diplomacy, the role of non-presidential signatories, particularly foreign ministers, is pivotal. This practice is illustrated by the meeting between Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, and Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, Yasin Haji, on February 26, 2020, The two foreign ministers convened in Taipei to sign the agreement establishing representative offices in both Taipei and Hargeisa. This approach not only emphasizes a low-key and pragmatic method to diplomacy, but also aims to sidestep the international sensitivities and potential conflicts inherent in such unrecognized state-to-state interactions.

By focusing on high-level but non-head-of-state signatories, both entities tactically mitigate potential pushback from other nations and international bodies. This method showcases a deliberate and strategic layer of diplomacy, where interactions are curated to foster long-term relationships without escalating into high-profile controversies that might attract undue attention or retaliation from opposing states, like People’s Republic of China, which maintains a policy of isolating Taiwan internationally.

Furthermore, the sustained engagement at the ministerial level underlines a commitment to transcending mere symbolic gestures. The signing of technical and developmental cooperation agreements, such as the one on July 1, 202021 underscores a shared vision for practical and tangible outcomes from these diplomatic interactions, reflecting both regions’ strategic aspirations on the global stage.

Conclusion

The analysis of Taiwan and Somaliland’s diplomatic maneuvers reveals a compelling narrative of resilience and strategic innovation beyond the international system. This paper has demonstrated that despite their non-recognition on the global stage, both entities have successfully navigated the complexities of international relations by fostering a “people-to-people” diplomacy, which has not only circumvented the traditional constraints imposed by the lack of formal recognition but also enhances their developmental trajectories.

The establishment of ties between Taiwan and Somaliland has elicited significant reactions from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Federal Republic of Somalia. The PRC views Taiwan’s international engagements as direct challenges to its One-China policy, which asserts that there is only one sovereign state under the name China, encompassing both the mainland and Taiwan.22 Consequently, China has condemned Taiwan’s diplomatic moves as attempts to undermine its sovereignty and has exerted diplomatic pressure on countries and entities engaging with Taiwan.

Similarly, the Federal Republic of Somalia, which claims sovereignty over Somaliland, has criticized Somaliland’s diplomatic engagements with Taiwan. Somalia perceives these relations as threats to its territorial integrity and has called on the international community to uphold Somalia’s sovereignty. The Somali government argues that any diplomatic recognition of Somaliland undermines peace and stability in the region, complicating efforts for national reconciliation and unity.23

The reactions from both the PRC and the Federal Republic of Somalia highlight the geopolitical sensitivities surrounding the Taiwan-Somaliland relationship. These responses underscore the complexities non-recognized entities face when attempting to establish international relations, and the broader implications for global diplomatic dynamics.

Future research should explore the long-term impacts of such non-traditional diplomatic engagements on international law and global diplomacy. Further inquiry might also examine how similar strategies could be employed by other non-recognized, or partially recognized, entities to achieve their developmental and diplomatic objectives. Additionally, the exploration of the socio-economic impacts of these diplomatic efforts on the local populations of Taiwan and Somaliland could provide deeper insights into the efficacy of “people-to-people” diplomacy.

The strategic diplomacy of Taiwan and Somaliland challenges traditional conceptions of statehood and international relations. It highlights the potential for non-recognized states to assert their presence on the global stage through innovative, people-focused diplomacy. This approach not only enriches our understanding of modern diplomacy but also underscores the importance of adaptability and strategic alignment in achieving international recognition and cooperation. The enduring partnership between Taiwan and Somaliland, therefore, is not just a diplomatic anomaly but a testament to the evolving dynamics of global diplomacy, where flexibility, innovation, and mutual interests pave the way for new forms of international engagement.

Endnotes

  1. Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Vienna, 18 April 1961 https://legal.un.org/avl/ha/vcdr/vcdr.html#:~:text=The%20Vienna%20Convention%20provides%20a,consent%20between%20independent%20sovereign%20States.
  2. https://www.mofa.go.jp/afr/af2/page4e_000496.html
  3. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative
  4. J. F. Copper, (2016). Taiwan: Nation-State or Province?. Routledge, 20216.. https://www.routledge.com/Taiwan-Nation-State-or-Province/Copper/p/book/9781138337749
  5. M. Bryden, No quick fixes: Coming to terms with terrorism, Islam, and statelessness in Somalia. Journal of Conflict Studies, 23(2), 2003. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237638327_No_Quick_Fixes_Coming_to_Terms_with_Terrorism_Islam_and_Statelessness_in_Somalia
  6. https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2024/04/08/2003816104
  7. T. R. Heath, China’s Evolving Approach to the Indo-Pacific. RAND Corporation, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1366.html
  8. Jean-Pierre Cabestan. September 02, 2021.  The Somaliland Connection: Taiwan’s Return to Africa? https://thediplomat.com/2021/09/the-somaliland-connection-taiwans-return-to-africa/
  9. Lin Chia-nan. July 02, 2020. Taiwan, Somaliland to set up representative offices. https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2020/07/02/2003739214
  10. Numelin Ragnar, The Beginnings of Diplomacy : A Sociological Study of Intertribal and International Relations. London: Oxford University Press, 1950; https://academic.oup.com/sf/article-abstract/30/4/477/2226192?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  11. Costas M. Constantinou, On the Way to Diplomacy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/on-the-way-to-diplomacy; and  Costas M. Constantinou, « Multidirectional diplomacy and the privatization of settlement. » Peace Review 24(4), 2012: 454–461.
  12. Noe Cornago, Plural Diplomacies: Normative Predicaments and Functional Imperatives. Leider: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013. https://books.google.so/books/about/Plural_Diplomacies.html?id=BNJ8oXPFD2QC&redir_esc=y
  13. Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1977; https://philpapers.org/rec/BULTAS
  14. Martin Wight, Power Politics. London: Penguin, 1979. https://books.google.so/books/about/Power_Politics.html?id=zW0wAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y
  15. Focus Taiwan. Aug 17, 2020. Taiwan opens representative office in Somaliland. https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202008170019
  16. Ioan Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa, 1961; https://books.google.so/books?id=-ERyAAAAMAAJ&source=gbs_book_other_versions
  17. https://www.horndiplomat.com/2020/12/16/taiwan-announces-scholarship-program-for-somaliland-students/
  18. https://www.roc-taiwan.org/smd_en/post/430.html
  19. ROC Taiwan.org. 23 mai 2022 — Taiwan signs the Energy and Mineral Resources Cooperation Agreement with Somaliland. https://www.roc-taiwan.org/smd_en/post/642.html
  20. https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2023/10/05/2003807218
  21. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/taiwan-somaliland-announce-bilateral-relations/1896111
  22. J. F. Copper, Taiwan: Nation-State or Province?. Routledge, 2016.. https://www.routledge.com/Taiwan-Nation-State-or-Province/Copper/p/book/9781138337749
  23. T. R. Heath, China’s Evolving Approach to the Indo-Pacific. RAND Corporation, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1366.html
Visited 353 times, 9 visit(s) today