Issues In Perspective: Liberia May Dump Taiwan for PRC

Informed sources within the Liberian government say the country, desperate for cash for its tattered economy in the midst of international isolation, may soon end its recognition of Taiwan to embrace mainland People's Republic in exchange for much needed cash.

Liberia's Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Jonathan Taylor, who was recently in Russia to court new ties with Moscow, may be heading to Beijing for substantive negotiations that may lead to formal diplomatic ties broken during the regime of late president Samuel Doe who was murdered by INPFL rebels.

Taiwan has been active in Liberian politics for a number of years, contributing, according to sources, about one million dollars to Taylor's 1997 presidential campaign. The former warlord turned president paid a recent visit to Taiwan in anticipation of more help for his cash-starved economy, but indications are that the Taiwanese were less reluctant to commit substantial cash due to the chaotic nature of the country and heightened corruption within the government.

Although President Taylor vowed during his high profile visit to ensure Taiwan's membership of the United Nations, the pledge was down-played since Liberia itself has forfeited its voting rights within the UN due to unpaid debts. President Taylor was forced to cancel a much publicize visit to the UN in 1999 following protests from human rights organizations who accused the former warlord of a number of human rights abuses, including the execution of five Catholic nuns during his abortive 1992 Operation Octopus designed to seize the capital and install himself president. The country has also lost its voting rights in the Organization of African Unity as a result of unpaid debts, and arrears for its shattered foreign service stand at $30m., according to government figures.

Recent reports by the United Nations Development Program and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, painted a gloomy forecast of the country's economy. They pointed to a lack of a clear and coherent reconstruction plan, with the annual budget declining from its prewar level of about $500m. to barely $50m. President Taylor's decision demanding $26m. payment from the state for his services as a head of his rebel run National Patriotic Reconstruction Assembly Government met with mass opposition recently. Critics believe the president's lifestyle, including his ownership of a Rolls Royce among a fleet of luxurious cars, has contributed to donors' skepticism.

Despite elections described by most observers as free and fair, the country's image has continued to suffer, partly as a result of its backing of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front known to have waged a campaign of amputation of children as young as 7 months, and others. Although Taylor has denied links with the RUF, many countries, including the United States, implicated Liberia in Sierra Leone's ongoing conflict. Both Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh are graduates of Libyan training camps. A report by a Canadian research group revealed last year that Liberia exported 31 million carats of diamonds, although its diamond deposits are significantly lower. The report concluded that the diamonds sold on the international market from Monrovia were of Sierra Leone origin.

A recent book (The Mask Of Anarchy) published by an Oxford academic, Dr. Stephen Ellis, catalogued criminal activities, including money laundering, linked to the Liberian authorities. A member of the Wold Bank, after a visit to the country, said Liberia was now appealing to criminals in the absence of bona fide investors. The country's Maritime entity, one of its main income generating sources, owes international "maritime related organizations" over $5m.

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