China extends influence as Solomons ditches Taiwan
18 September 2019
| The Guardian
SYDNEY - The Solomon Islands’ government has voted to sever its longstanding ties with Taiwan and take up diplomatic relations with Beijing.
The move is a huge blow to self-ruled Taiwan, which has lost six allies since 2016, and to Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January amid rising tension with China.
The Solomon Islands, with about 600,000 people, is the latest country to switch allegiance to China since Tsai came to office in 2016, following Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, São Tomé and Príncipe, Panama and El Salvador.
Taiwan announced it was severing ties with the Solomon Islands on Monday after learning its government had decided to switch diplomatic recognition to China, which it said was “extremely regrettable”.
“The cabinet of the Solomon Islands government decided to switch diplomatic relations to the People’s Republic of China,” said Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, at a press conference in Taipei on Monday.
Taiwan has been a de facto sovereign nation since the end of a civil war in 1949, but China still views the island as its territory and has vowed to bring it under central control.
Over the decades, dozens of countries, including the US and most western nations, have switched recognition to Beijing, leaving just a handful of countries loyal to Taiwan, largely in Latin America and the Pacific.
The decision of the Solomon Islands to switch allegiance followed the recommendation of a taskforce commissioned by the Solomon Islands’ government to investigate the benefits to the country of switching ties.
The report, released on Friday, advised that the government switch ties to China and invite it to establish a diplomatic mission in the capital, Honiara.
“The findings reveal that Solomon Islands stands to benefit a lot if it switches and normalises diplomatic relations with PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the task force said.
Taiwan’s representative office in the Solomon Islands called the report a “fallacy” and said the task force members did not conduct proper fact-finding.
The diplomatic switch reduces the number of countries that recognise Taiwan to 16.
The south Pacific has been a diplomatic stronghold for Taiwan, where formal ties with six island nations made up more than a third of its total alliances, though China has in recent years been expanding its influence in the region.
The Solomon Islands was by far the largest remaining Pacific ally for Taiwan. The nation has had diplomatic relations with Taiwan for 36 years, during which time it has received considerable financial support from Taiwan.
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