Taiwan loses second diplomatic ally in a week
Taiwan has lost its second diplomatic ally in a week as China steps up its campaign against the country ahead of presidential elections.
Kiribati, a Pacific island nation of just 110,000, notified Taiwan on Friday that it was breaking off diplomatic ties, reducing the number of Taiwan’s official allies to just 15.
The decision comes as Beijing is making a concerted push to convince small Pacific island countries to switch relations from Taipei to Beijing.
The Solomon Islands, which had been the largest of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific, abandoned Taipei on Monday. The newly elected parliament of Tuvalu, another Pacific island nation that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan, on Thursday replaced its Taiwan-friendly prime minister in a move which could spell change in its foreign policy as well.
The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as its territory although it has never ruled the island, and threatens to invade if Taipei resists unification indefinitely.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, refuses to describe Taiwan as part of China, a position over which Beijing has cut exchanges with Taiwan’s government, drastically reduced Chinese tourism to Taiwan, stepped up military posturing and resumed the poaching of Taipei’s diplomatic allies.
While Taiwan has lost seven such allies since Ms Tsai took office in 2016, two countries breaking off ties within a few days marks a new climax.
But Taiwan government officials said China had in recent weeks drastically stepped up its efforts to lobby politicians in Pacific island nations that support Taipei — promising hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, loans and investment.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said that Kiribati’s president, Taneti Mamau, had recently asked Taiwan for a large amount of funding to purchase a passenger aircraft, but Taipei declined because gifting civilian aircraft to be used for commercial purposes was outside guidelines governing international development assistance. “Our intelligence shows that the Chinese government has promised a grant for purchasing several civilian aircraft, commercial ferries etc, to lure Kiribati into the diplomatic switch,” Mr Wu said.
Switching diplomatic ties to China “is a general trend”, said Lv Xiang, an international relations expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-backed think-tank in Beijing. “It fits Kiribati’s interests. We don’t need to win them with money. They’ll benefit a lot from regular trade and economic exchanges with China.”
In the case of the Solomon Islands, Beijing agreed to pay into a constituency development fund which had previously been partly funded by Taiwanese aid.
The funding provided to both countries is unusual as the majority of Chinese aid to Pacific countries comes in the form of loans and infrastructure investment. Taiwanese officials said the financial offers were extended because Beijing was in a hurry to get the Pacific island nations to switch allegiance.
“According to our analysis, they want to present something that looks like a breakthrough ahead of October 1,” said a senior Taiwanese official, referring to China’s National Day. “Xi Jinping hasn’t managed to make any progress in pushing us towards unification, but he needs to show progress. Isolating us more is progress to them.”