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 A switcheroo for the year of the election

Pacific Reflections By Gabriel McCoard

“Elections have consequences.” –Every US Senator who voted against a Supreme Court nominee who got confirmed anyway


News media love elections and 2024 is turning into the year of the election. Don’t take my word for it. Virtually every publication from Foreign Policy to Time has featured an exposé on the nations of the world selecting rulers, I mean leaders, this year against the backdrop of transparent democracy versus heavy-handed authoritarianism.

India, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States, where so far, in the most anti-climactic electoral evolution ever, Donald Trump is coasting to the Republican re-nomination.

The media, in fact, are obsessed with elections. 

This past month Taiwan started the cycle by electing Lai Ching-te president, a move that The Economist described as “defying China.” Lai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, was the sponsor of a 2007 resolution calling for a “normal country” and greater use of the name “Taiwan” over “The Republic of China.”

In short, a step toward a formal declaration of independence and sovereignty, and calling itself Taiwan, as in The Republic of Taiwan. The “Taiwan” part was less popular.

Put more bluntly, the party’s leader who called for Taiwan’s formal independence over the triangular status quo (China is China, China leaves Taiwan alone to act like a country without formally being one, the U.S. sells Taiwan weapons) that has so far created an uneasy normality, won the presidency of an already tense zone that is getting distinctly more tense.


Reactions were predictable. The U.S. and its cronies smiled. China and its minions frowned.

And on the heels of this election, Nauru, a Micronesian republic located midway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, announced it switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, a move that an acquaintance of mine called “The Nauru Switcheroo.”

This is the third time since 1980 that Nauru has switched allegiance between Taipei and Beijing. Surely, they expect something better. Again.

This leaves Taiwan with 12 recognizers on the world stage.

Media reaction has been predictable. China’s buying off another island republic with a promise of greater development. Let’s be blunt: a Republic-in-Name-Only is a nation of used car salesmen who will drop everything at a hint of a better promise. Let’s be even more blunt. Money. They want money. For themselves, at least. Even if it’s not that much, all factors considered.

Western media treatment of China’s ambitions worldwide has evolved in its own subtle way, from dismissiveness (the Belt and Road Initiative will never work), to immediate security crisis (Oh, the horror! This infrastructure they’re developing in a region we never cared about could be converted to military use!) to shallow warning (this debt-trap diplomacy will make you lose sovereignty over your own port), to “I told you so” (well, China makes a lot of promises, but it’s a white elephant. Have you actually gotten anything? How’s that new building holding up?”) 

The concerns aren’t wrong of course, but smack of after-fact certainty with a bit of moral righteousness thrown in.

In the Pacific, an American afterthought suddenly finds itself awash in relevance, and nations that can’t build their own roads are more than pawns in the chess game of global security and influence.


In the midst of this also came a short report about longtime Taiwan ally Palau. Regional media reported that a record number of Palauans were deported from the U.S. back to the island republic. The reasons are familiar: mostly drug offenses and sexual assault. Under American immigration law, two big factors triggering deportation are crimes that are aggravated felonies and crimes involving moral turpitude.

There’s not exactly a clear definition of either in the Immigration and Naturalization Act, but aggravated felonies include trafficking in illicit substances, and crimes involving moral turpitude are a class of actions that shock the public conscience. Perhaps these individuals failed to heed the warning of Chuab’s insatiable appetite, one of Palau’s creation stories. If you’re unfamiliar with the tale of Chuab, the young boy, or girl in some versions, whose appetite was so great that finally he (or she) was set on fire, just wait until the next international climate conference. Someone will tell it again.

But don’t worry about the deportees. Palau will hold national elections this year.

Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to

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