Taiwan opened a representative office in the breakaway state of Somaliland on Monday, a sign of deepening ties between two de facto sovereign territories that are denied widespread international recognition.
The flags of both territories were hoisted and officials sang their respective national anthems during a ceremony at the office in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa.
“We are confident about the mutual beneficial and friendly ties with Somaliland,” Taiwanese representative Lou Chen-hwa, who will head up the office, said in prepared remarks.
He added that the two territories planned to cooperate on everything from health care to agriculture and security.
The agreement to establish the new office was announced last month, and Somaliland is expected to open its own office in the Taiwanese capital Taipei soon.
Yasin Haji Mohamoud, Somaliland’s foreign minister, told reporters Monday that an ambassador was “already working” on setting it up.
Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan is officially recognised by only 15 countries — China poached seven of its diplomatic allies after President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016.
Tsai describes Taiwan as “already independent” but China views the island as its own territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary.
Taiwan has for decades been engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war with Beijing in which each side tries to woo the other’s allies with financial and other incentives.
Somaliland is in a somewhat similar position, having declared independence from Somalia in 1991 in a move that remains unrecognised by the international community.
While anarchic southern Somalia has been riven by years of fighting between multiple militia forces and Islamist violence, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace.
Somaliland and Taiwan are in some ways “natural partners”, especially as Beijing has been reluctant to engage with Somaliland because of its unrecognised status, said Omar Mahmood, senior Somalia analyst for International Crisis Group.
“They probably saw the costs of engaging Taiwan as not that high, given that they were not giving up much from China in any case,” Mahmood said.
The opening of the Taiwanese office is also consistent with “a trend towards international competition for Somaliland”, driven in large part by its strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, said Horn of Africa analyst Rashid Abdi.
The United Arab Emirates has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing the port in Berbera, and Egypt recently sent a delegation to Hargeisa to discuss various possible areas of cooperation.
“Somaliland definitely is happy that it is now very much in the centre of the geopolitical competition,” Abdi said