Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks to media as she arrives for VIP reception at the Hyatt hotel in New York on Friday. Eduardo Munoz/ Reuters
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s choice of Port-au-Prince as the first stop in her Caribbean tour is highly symbolic of the diplomatic power struggle being played out in the region.
Last year, the neighboring Dominican Republic dropped Taipei and threw in its diplomatic lot with Beijing, leaving Haiti as one of only 17 countries still officially recognizing Taiwan as a country.
Since Tsai became president, China — which considers Taiwan part of its territory — has poached five of the island’s dwindling roster of allies, and some in Haiti think President Jovenel Moise should do more to leverage that diplomatic tension when the two leaders meet on Saturday.
In May 2018, Moise visited Taiwan but failed to come away with any significant achievements.
“There was nothing concrete, nothing new to come out of it except for a loan which had already been negotiated well ahead of the visit,” said Haitian economist Etzer Emile.
While Chinese loans and investment offered to the Dominican Republic already amount to almost $3 billion, Taipei has offered Haiti $150 million for projects to expand its electrical power grid.
Those funds have yet to be transferred because the loan hasn’t been ratified by the Haitian parliament.
Lawmakers in the assembly prefer instead to lay blame for the weakness of relations between the two countries on the executive branch.
“If Haiti hasn’t yet demanded much larger cooperation with Taiwan, we can’t say that having relations with Beijing would be more profitable,” said Alfredo Antoine, who heads the foreign affairs commission.
Despite holding a trump diplomatic card, Haiti does not seem to getting much out of it.
“Beijing’s push to recover the region could be a good chance for Haiti to demand more from its traditional partners in terms of investments and large-scale projects,” said Emile.
“But we have to know how to position ourselves, otherwise we’ll just continue getting monthly donations of dozens of tons of rice.”
But Haiti’s bargaining power has been eroded by growing street protests demanding Moise’s resignation, and he has not had a functioning government for months.
Parliament can barely get enough attendees to hold a session, and the political crisis is sapping diplomatic efforts.
On top of all that, US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China has put additional pressure on Haiti to maintain ties with Taiwan.
“It is down to Haiti to define its relations, no other country can tell us how to conduct our overseas relations,” said Antoine.
In January, under US pressure, Haiti backed a resolution by the Organization of American States condemning Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, despite the country’s longstanding ties with the socialist regime in Caracas.
If the Taiwanese president can count on diplomatic ties with Haiti, investors travelling with her may not feel pressure to unveil any major projects, the chagrin of the Haitians.
“The country needs to be helped to find loans that meet the demands of the modern world: roads, airports, ports... We don’t want hand-outs, that pushes us deeper into the abyss because that can’t boost real development in the country,” said Evaliere Beauplan, an opposition senator who heads the foreign affairs committee in the upper chamber.
With almost daily clashes between protesters in the streets of the capital, however, Port-au-Prince is not well placed to host foreign dignitaries.
Moise has yet to receive any of his counterparts at the presidential palace. The last head of state to visit Haiti was Dominican President Danilo Medina in October 2016.
Police in New York had to break up fights between supporters and opponents of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday during a visit to the United States which will likely infuriate Beijing.
Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling party took a major step on Thursday toward nominating incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen - a thorn in the side of China - as its candidate for a second presidential term.
A populist mayor who favours closer ties with Beijing was announced as the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s opposition on Monday as it looks to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen in upcoming elections.
The discovery of World War II bombs is not uncommon in Germany. Construction workers stumbled upon the 500-kilogramme (1,100-pound) bomb on the right bank of the Rhine river on Monday evening, city officials said.
Greta Thunberg, who has inspired a new generation of activists to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, urged world leaders to listen to young people on Tuesday.
It published a photo of him wearing a blue beanie and jeans with a backpack over his shoulders after slipping out a back staircase, escorted by security.