Taiwan accused China of “dollar diplomacy” and trying to influence the island’s forthcoming presidential and legislative elections after the Solomon Islands cut off ties with Taipei, the sixth country to do so since Tsai Ing-wen became president of Taiwan in 2016.
Self-ruled Taiwan now has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less-developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Tsai said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure.
“Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space,” Tsai said, calling the Chinese move “a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order”.
“I want to emphasise that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands,” she said.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “highly commends” the decision to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, adding it was part of an “irresistible trend”.
“We stand ready to work with the Solomon Islands to open new broad prospects for our bilateral relations,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement late on Monday.
The Solomon Islands’ decision followed a months-long review of the pros and cons of a switch to Beijing, which was offering $8.5 million in development funds to replace support from Taiwan.
In a cabinet vote on Monday, there were 27 votes to shift ties and six abstentions, creating an “overwhelming” majority, a Solomon Islands member of parliament told Reuters.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had said China was seen as more likely to provide significant infrastructure funding to the impoverished nation, where less than 50 percent of the population have access to electricity.
He also argued switching to China would give the Solomons greater leverage over traditional regional powers, citing Fiji, which shrugged off sanctions imposed by Australia and New Zealand following a 2006 military coup by boosting relations with China.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said Taipei would immediately close its embassy in the Solomon Islands and recall its diplomats.
“The Chinese government attacked Taiwan purposely before our presidential and legislative elections, obviously aiming to meddle with the voting,” Wu said. “The government strongly condemns this and urges people to hold onto its sovereignty and the value of freedom and democracy.”
Tsai is seeking a second term in January’s poll and the issue of the island’s relationship with China is likely to loom large.
‘Not a chance’
Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama and El Salvador have all cut ties with Taipei in recent years.
China suspects Tsai of pushing for formal independence for Taiwan, which was established by the defeated nationalists following the civil war 70 years ago. The government in Beijing considers the island a renegade province and has said it is prepared to use force to take back the island, if necessary.
Tsai said the Chinese move could be an “attempt to divert attention” from months of protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, and that China was forcing Taiwan to accept a formula similar to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” arrangement.
“I am confident that the 23 million people of Taiwan have this to say in response: not a chance.”
A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters Beijing had issued an “urgent order” to secure the Solomon Islands’ allegiance “at any cost” on Sunday night.
The protests in Hong Kong pose the biggest challenge for Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.