MBABANE: : The People’s Republic of China allegedly put in place $72million(about E1billion) to lobby eSwatini Members of Parliament to terminate diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
This disclosure comes in the midst of tensions within eSwatini’s corridors of power as the Mainland China intensify moves to capture powerful political figures to influence the termination of Taiwan diplomatic ties with the tiny Kingdom. The figure, it has been disclosed, suggests that each MP including Senators might be ‘lobbied’ with $700,000.00(about E10million) as China stretches its financial muscle to completely oust Taiwan from the African continent.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News uncovered that, the Mainland China through it’s Embassy in Pretoria conducted an intelligence operation in the Kingdom of eSwatini and subsequently identified a powerful political clique in Parliament as having the potential to influence the termination of Taiwan-eSwatini diplomatic relations in favor of the People’s Republic of China. Evidence in our possession suggests that on or around April 2019, His Excellency Lin Songtian, the Chinese Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa facilitated a high level ‘secret’ meeting between his country and a group of eSwatini MPs lead by Marwick Khumalo, the influential, powerful and highly connected legislator in the Swazi political hierarchy. Other MPs who attended the meeting include Robert Magongo, Prince Magudvulela, Victor Malambe, they were in the company of Prince Thumbumuzi, an influential member of the royal family. This is contained in documentary evidence including pictures leaked to this Swaziland News, where the legislators were seen with powerful officials in that country including Lin Songtian, the Chinese Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa.
When reached for comments, MP Prince Magudvulela confirmed that they visited China but clarified that they went there as private citizens to familiarize themselves with what the country could benefit from the Mainland China compared to the diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The Prince said as Parliament, it remains their duty to fully understand both the advantages and disadvantages of aligning the country with the Mainland China.
“I wouldn’t say it was lobbying because we were also interested in meeting them to understand this Africa-China trade relations as you know, we are now the only country in the African continent that is not part of those trade agreements. As eMaswati, we decided to go there on a fact finding mission to understand how the country can benefit because we don’t know what the future holds,” said the Prince.
MP Marwick Khumalo did not respond to our questionnaire where he was asked to explain further regarding the diplomatic meeting. But an independent investigation by this Swaziland News disclosed on or around May 2019, shortly after the team of MPs returned from China, Jeremy Liang, the Taiwan Ambassador to eSwatini held a meeting with Speaker in the House of Assembly Petros Mavimbela where he expressed concerns with the conduct of the MPs. Senior insiders within eSwatini Parliament told this publication that Ambassador Liang was concerned that the MPs were secretly colluding with the Mainland China to terminate the diplomatic ties between Taiwan and eSwatini. When reached for comments, the Speaker first tried to deny knowledge of the matter saying he was not aware of it. When pressed further and given accurate findings of this investigation regarding a meeting he held with the Ambassador, the Presiding Officer subsequently confirmed the matter but said it would be difficult for him to comment further as the MPs where not authorized by his office to visit China over the subject matter.
“Its true we met with the Taiwan Ambassador but you need to understand that it’s hard for me to confirm a matter that was not officially authorized by my office. If they went to China on their own, then it was not the mandate of my office?” said the Speaker.
But His Excellency Jeremy Liang, the Ambassador of the Republic of China on Taiwan confirmed the matter adding that he was even aware of the list of MPs who visited the People’s Republic of China on the subject matter. Speaking to this Swaziland News, the Ambassador said despite the latest developments, he was not shaken as the diplomatic relations between his country and eSwatini remains strong.
“I am aware that some MPs and Senators visited China to discuss this matter, but you need to know that the relations between Taiwan and eSwatini are very strong. So, the fact that some individuals are now trying to change that is not in the interest of eSwatini. We’ve been friends for 51years and the relations continue to be strong. These people should know what Taiwan has done for the people of eSwatini and the government,” said the Taiwan Ambassador.
An investigation by this publication uncovered that the meeting between the Speaker and the Taiwan Ambassador came subsequent to a notice of motion registered by MP Marwick Khumalo that was calling upon the Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini to facilitate a process of establishing an Economic Trade and Tourism Mission with the People’s Republic of China. The notice of motion that triggered political tensions between Parliament and the Executive came shortly after the MPs returned from China. Senior political sources disclosed that even though the notice of motion did not specifically indicate the termination of eSwatini-Taiwan diplomatic relations - intelligence information triggered the Ambassador to spring into action and address the matter with the relevant authorities. As a result, the intended motion was stopped from being debated in Parliament; it was viewed as a threat to the diplomatic ties between eSwatini and Taiwan. An MP who cannot be named to protect himself told this publication that financial lobbying was intensifying in Parliament and expressed serious concerns on these developments. The legislator said these MPs actually went to China to ‘sell the country’ adding that this was evident with the notice of motion that was registered thereafter.
“When you look at these MPs, what interest can they have in trade except to be paid money to push the interests of the Mainland China? Decisions bordering around diplomatic matters between eSwatini and other countries remains the prerogative of the King as the Head of State and one wonders what’s their interest on this. But the speed in registering the notice of motion upon their return indicated that something was motivating them” said the MP.
Reached for comments, Senator Sylvia Mtsetfwa confirmed taking a trip to China with the other MPs but clarified that as a King’s appointee, she remain in support of policies and agreements that the Kingdom of eSwatini signed with international organizations and certain countries.
“I therefore would not be a party to groups that are bent to nullify those policies and agreements,” she said.
The Senator further mentioned that as a businesswoman, she travels to all corners of the world including China.
“In this context, I have occasions to interact on China-Africa business relationships in line with AU and SADC commitments and the meeting you referring to it was in those contests” she added.
MP Robert Magongo, one of Marwick Khumalo’s close allies threatened this investigative journalist when asked to comment on the matter.
“Can you please stop this otherwise you and me will go far, stop sending a questionnaire to me” said the MP.
Efforts to reach Prince Thumbumuzi, a highly influential member of the royal family who was part of the meeting proved unsuccessful. But Ndzingeni MP Lutfo Dlamini, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs who is now one of the most influential legislators in eSwatini confirmed knowledge of the matter but clarified that some of them support the King and as a result, they stand with Taiwan.
“ I am aware that some MPs went to China to discuss strategies of terminating diplomatic ties with Taiwan. However, some of us support the King and as a result we are with Taiwan,” said long serving politician.
Efforts were made to reach Mhlume MP Victor Malambe who was part of the powerful political clique that went to China,unfortunately his phone was busy. However he later returned the call and immediately terminated it shortly after this journalist introduced himself and started questioning him on the subject matter. A questionnaire was then sent to the MP, but he never responded. Reached for comments, Lucky Lukhele, the Spokesperson of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN) said the diplomatic relations between eSwatini and Taiwan was benefiting the King more than the citizens of the country. Lukhele, a prominent democracy activist said the issue did not only divided Parliament but royalty as some senior members of the royal family accuse King Mswati of holding on to Taiwan because of personal financial benefit.
“This is a corrupt relationship between King Mswati and the Taiwan province which belong to the Mainland China. Swaziland must join the rest of the world and there would be lots of benefits, of course we need to protect our territorial integrity like any other country. The people of Swaziland are being deprived scholarships that could be exchanged and the entire population of Swaziland can be educated and developed,” he said.
Lukhele dismissed the notion that China diplomatic relations was a threat to the Sovereignty of many African countries saying such was merely a result of poor leadership.
“It is the leadership of the country that should scrutinize the agreements before signing to ascertain if the Sovereignty of the country is not at stake” he said.
But Emmanuel Ndlangamandla, the Executive Director of Co-coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organizations (CANGO) said the country has been a loyal friend to Taiwan for a good reason. “Eswatini has been a loyal friend with friend with Taiwan for good reasons. We credit Taiwan for the achievement in rural electrification for example. However, there is need to interrogate the global view on one China policy. As a country, in terms of the foreign policy that seeks not to meddle in other countries affairs, is it okay to contradict the one China policy thus taking sides in a family affair-Taiwan and the Mainland China? We need to interrogate with evidence what we lose by not having bilateral relations with China. The economic situation we face require thinking out of the box and explore in the national interest, relations where we can benefit more” said the CANGO Director.
A senior political insider who happens to be King Mswati’s ally told this Swaziland News that the country couldn’t risk its Sovereignty and allow itself to be colonized by the Mainland China. “You will note that in some countries, they are now concerned with their Sovereignty as China seized control of the key infrastructure after they failed to repay the huge loans and we can’t allow that to happen here” said the insider. On or around September 2018, The Independent, a British online newspaper reported that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned against what he called a “new version of colonialism” when he cancelled a $20bn Chinese-backed rail project. But China’s President Xi Jinping, when addressing African Head of States during the recent China-Africa Forum appeared to acknowledge these concerns, saying Chinese loans came with no political strings attached. “China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa,” the Chinese President said. But contrary to the sentiments of President Xi Jinping, the Mainland China ‘imposed’ a diplomatic policy suggesting that countries including African States cannot simultaneously have ties with China and Taiwan. A senior political source in the corridors of power told this publication that actually eSwatini was willing to cement ties with the Mainland China but further maintain same with Taiwan. “Our stand as a country is that we don’t have enemies and as such we are willing to have diplomatic ties with both the Mainland China and Taiwan. That’s why, despite the diplomatic standoff between the two countries, we are trading with China” said the source.
Last week, this publication sent a questionnaire via email to Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian through the Embassy’s press department, however there were no responses at time of compiling this report. Reached for comments, MacDonald Chipenzi, the Executive Director of the Governance Elections Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) in Zambia said life would definitely be difficult for eSwatini without the Mainland China. Speaking to this Swaziland News, the Executive Director said, this was the reason behind the alleged secret mission by the MPs who visited the Mainland with the intention of discussing strategies to remove Taiwan. “My honest belief is that Eswatini is seeing life without China difficult to live. This is so because every country looks to China for loans without or minimum conditions on transparency and accountability. You may recall that early this year or late last year during the China-Africa Forum, China promised Billions of Dollars African States in development aid. Eswatini can’t afford to miss this opportunity by not aligning itself to the Mainland China. It’s association with Taiwan undermines the above prospect hence, this alleged secret mission by emissaries from the Kingdom” said the GEARS Director. But Percy Simelane, the Eswatini Government and King Mswati’s Spokesperson said the State’s position to remain with the Republic of China on Taiwan stands. “His Majesty the King has put it in no uncertain terms that nothing has changed and nothing is changing as it were,” he said.
Eswatini MPs with Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency Lin Songtian