Panama switches diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China

28-Jun-2017 Intellasia | New Burghgazette | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen called Panama’s decision “deeply regrettable” and issued a defiant message to Beijing that the island would not back down from its engagement with the worldwide community. Many other countries followed suit, including the United States, which switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 but has maintained unofficial ties with Taiwan, an important ally in the region. But then Costa Rica switched allegiance, breaking with Taipei to forge bonds with Beijing. The steady attrition has left Taiwan with just two allies in Africa, namely Burkina Faso in the west and the Kingdom of Swaziland in the south. “Among what remains of the countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan are usually very, very small countries where Taiwan can boost up its relationships…but for slightly bigger countries, it’s hard to [ignore] China’s economic clout”. Taipei now has formal ties with 20 governments, a lot of them small nations in Central and South America, as well as microstates in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Panama is the second country to switch its recognition to Beijing since Tsai took office previous year, following a similar move by Sao Tome and Principe in December, trimming to 20 the number of countries that formally recognise Taiwan. The divorce between Panama and Taiwan “really signals a significant change”, said Matt Ferchen, global politics professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Panama has broken ties with Taiwan in order to establish formal commercial and diplomatic ties with China, according to multiple news sources. Still, Robert Manning, an Asia expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said China was gradually extending its influence in Latin America and that pressure was likely to continue to rise on countries to switch sides. In a jolt to Taiwan and boost to Beijing’s diplomacy, Panama on Tuesday severed ties with the country and recognised it as an “indispensable” part of China. The analysts say Panama tried almost a decade ago to dump Taipei and establish full diplomatic ties with the mainland, one of its top trading partners and the number two user of the Panama Canal. In Beijing, Panama’s Foreign minister Isabel de Saint Malo and Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi signed on Tuesday the joint communique that states the intention of Panama and China to establish diplomatic ties, as a result ending Panama’s relations with Taiwan. “Taiwan has resources but it can’t match China”. He said Taiwan would immediately end cooperation with and assistance for Panama. President Donald Trump indicated after he took office in January that his administration might not abide by the One China policy, but has since backed off that possibility following meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That country is holding out the most ambitious project in Latin America: the construction of a canal to rival Panama’s canal, financed by Chinese capital. “Relations between Taiwan and Nicaragua are very solid”, especially since Tsai’s visit, said Taiwanese-born Nicaraguan businessperson Gilberto Wong, highlighting Taiwan’s investment. The loss of Panama is meant to show Tsai that continued defiance of Beijing will harm Taiwan’s overall interests, said Zhang Baohui, director of centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.


Category: Taiwan

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