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TAIWAN NEWS
China delivers diplomatic punch to Taiwan by winning over Panama
By Allison JACKSON, with Juan Jose Rodriguez in Panama City
Beijing (AFP) June 13, 2017


Friend or foe? Taiwan's disappearing allies
Panama walking out on its relationship with Taiwan to establish ties with rival China is the latest in a spate of diplomatic dumping that is leaving Taipei increasingly isolated.

Beijing still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, while the democratic island views itself as a sovereign country, although it has never formally declared independence.

The governments in Taipei and Beijing insist that countries can only recognise one of them as legitimate and for years they have kept a tally of their supporters.

Most states have sided with Beijing, and the numbers doing so have swelled as China's global financial and political clout has grown.

But a dwindling band of nations still formally recognise Taiwan -- mainly developing countries in Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

The diplomatic tug-of-war enjoyed a hiatus between 2008 and 2016, when Taiwan's then-president Ma Ying-jeou called off the competition and nurtured closer ties with the mainland.

But since China-sceptic leader Tsai Ing-wen came to power last year, cross-strait relations have worsened dramatically and erstwhile friends have started to jump ship.

Only 20 states, including the Vatican, now officially recognise Taiwan, with predictions that number will shrink further.

- Recent departures -

In December 2016 the small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe severed ties with Taiwan, acknowledging China's "increasingly important" international role, as Beijing pumped billions of dollars into the continent.

In March that year, China announced it was to resume ties with Gambia, after the West African country broke off relations with Taiwan in 2013 citing "strategic national interest".

Prior to that, Malawi had been the last ally to jump ship, in 2008, one of nine that switched under former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian.

After Chen took the helm in 2000, cross-strait relations hit rock bottom because of his promotion of the island's independence.

The other allies lost during his eight-year term were Macedonia, Liberia, Dominica, Vanuatu, Grenada, Senegal, Chad and Costa Rica.

Chen established new ties with three small countries -- Kiribati, Nauru and St Lucia -- bringing the total number of formal friends to 23 by the time Ma took office in 2008.

- Forever friends? -

Taiwan now has just two allies in Africa -- Burkina Faso and Swaziland.

In central and south America, Taiwan counts Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay as official allies.

Chen's ties with Kiribati, Nauru and St Lucia still stand, along with the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu in the Pacific.

The Caribbean nations of St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent also still have formal ties.

- Partnerships in question -

The Vatican is widely seen as Taiwan's most powerful remaining ally -- its only one in Europe -- but there have been signs Beijing is working towards resuming relations with the Holy See.

Although there are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, there have been no diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing since 1951.

China is suspicious of religion and the "official" Catholic Church is run by the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association -- but there is also an "underground" Church which swears allegiance only to the pope.

However, the head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong said last year the Chinese government was willing to reach an "understanding" with the Vatican over the issue, although it is expected to be a lengthy process.

According to Taiwan's local media and some of the island's lawmakers, other allies rumoured to be considering switching ties are El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

China delivered another diplomatic punch to Taiwan on Tuesday by establishing relations with Panama at the expense of Taipei, further isolating the island's Beijing-sceptic government.

China, which considers self-ruled Taiwan a renegade province waiting to be reunited with the mainland, has been infuriated by President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to acknowledge the island is part of "one China", unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

Panama is the third country to switch allegiances to China since Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party was swept to power last year, China's nationalistic Global Times reported, warning more would follow in a "domino effect".

"This is the cost the Tsai administration needs to pay," the newspaper said in an editorial.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Panamanian counterpart Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado toasted with champagne in Beijing after signing a communique formalising the establishment of diplomatic relations while angering Taiwan.

"This is a historic moment, China-Panama relations have opened a new chapter," Wang said, adding that Panama's decision was in "complete accordance" with its people's interests and "in keeping with the times".

Saint Malo said Panama and China had made an "important step" and started a "new page in our strategic relations"

After decades of siding with Taiwan, Panama now "recognises that there is only one China in the world" and that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, said the joint communique.

While the Central American country is small, the Panama Canal canal is a crucial gateway for global trade between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

- 'Teach a lesson' -

The latest move infuriated Taiwan, which is still recognised by around 20 mostly small and economically weak countries, including Haiti, Tuvalu and Burkina Faso.

"Beijing's action has impacted the stable cross-strait status quo. This is unacceptable for the Taiwanese people and we will not sit back and watch our country's interests being repeatedly threatened and challenged," Tsai told reporters in Taipei.

"As the president, maintaining national sovereignty is my biggest responsibility. Greater challenge will bring stronger will. Taiwanese people's faith should not and will not be defeated easily. We will not be shaken."

Diplomatic tussles between Taiwan and Beijing eased under the island's previous Beijing-friendly government, but relations have deteriorated since Tsai took office.

China "is seeking to undermine President Tsai while intimidating Taiwan by narrowing its international space," said Michael Cole, Taipei-based senior fellow with the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.

Cross-strait tensions have been further exacerbated by a highly unusual call from Tsai to congratulate then US President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump questioned Washington's policy towards the island, including its decision to not formally recognise its government, but later reiterated Washington's One China policy.

"I think the phone call has reinforced Beijing's determination to teach Taiwan a lesson," said Willy Lam, an expert on politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

- Panama Canal -

Two months after Tsai's election win in January 2016, China recognised Taiwan's former ally Gambia, ending an unofficial diplomatic truce between the two sides.

In December China signed an agreement to restore diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe after the African nation ditched the island.

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced his decision in a nationally televised address.

The announcement came after Beijing began construction last week of a container port, with natural gas facilities, in Panama's northern province of Colon.

Panama had long stressed it had diplomatic ties with Taipei and commercial ones with Beijing.

Chinese ships, after those from the United States, are the number two users of the Panama Canal, the Central American country's main source of budget revenue.

"It's about who can give the most," said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor of politics at the UNSW Canberra college in Australia. "Taiwan has resources but it can't match China."

TAIWAN NEWS
Panama cuts ties with Taiwan, switches to China
Beijing (AFP) June 13, 2017
Panama and China announced Tuesday they were establishing diplomatic relations, as the Central American nation became the latest to dump Taiwan for closer ties with the world's second-largest economy. The move prompted an angry response from Taiwan and will likely further strain ties between Taipei and Beijing, which considers the self-ruled island a renegade province awaiting reunification ... read more

Related Links
Taiwan News at SinoDaily.com

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