The Wall Street Journal - Panama Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Taiwan in Favor of China

The Wall Street Journal - Panama Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Taiwan in Favor of China

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June 13, 2017. Eva Dou, Jenny W. Hsu.

Taipei’s list of formal diplomatic allies falls to 20 as Beijing continues to push for the island’s isolation.

BEIJING—Panama said it was severing diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establishing ties with China, reflecting a victory for Beijing in its efforts to isolate Taipei.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama’s vice president, signed the joint communiqué in Beijing on Tuesday establishing diplomatic relations, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed “anger and regret” over Panama’s decision and said Taipei would immediately end all foreign aid and bilateral cooperation with the Central American country.

A joint statement carried by Xinhua and posted on the Panamanian president’s website said that the “government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is only one China” and that Taiwan formed “an inalienable part of Chinese territory.”

Panama’s decision, which is effective immediately, comes against the backdrop of a campaign by Beijing to put pressure on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party advocates independence for the island. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and refuses formal ties with countries that recognize the island as a country. Ms. Tsai’s phone call in December congratulating President Donald Trump on his election victory broke with longstanding diplomatic protocol and raised the ire of Beijing.

Taiwan condemned Beijing for “tempting” Panama to cut off relations with Taipei, saying China’s continual effort to marginalize the island is provocative and endangers the stability in the region.

“It’s another way of turning the screws on the Taiwan government,” said William Stanton, the top U.S. diplomat in Taipei from 2009 to 2012.

Taiwanese Presidential Office Secretary-General Joseph Wu said during a press conference that Beijing’s latest move “pushes cross-Strait ties from peace to confrontation” and that Taiwan would reassess the cross-Strait situation.

Ms. Tsai has yet to publicly to acknowledge an agreement the two sides made in 1992 that there is only “one China.” The agreement didn’t clearly lay out what that term means but allowed the two rivals to end decades of hostilities. “This is happening because Beijing is disappointed in Tsai Ing-wen for not respecting the 92 Consensus,” said Jin Canrong, a Beijing-based foreign-relations professor at Renmin University.

In recent years, China’s growing economic heft has pushed more of Taiwan’s allies to switch their diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
In a televised statement also posted on Twitter, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said China was the second most important user of the Panama Canal and the No. 1 supplier of goods in the Colon free-trade zone. “The role the People’s Republic of China plays at the regional and global level is important,” he said.

He said, in an apparent reference to the absence of ties with Beijing until now, “this is a situation no responsible leader could allow to continue.”

Following Panama’s decision, Taiwan will have only 20 formal diplomatic allies, mainly small nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

After a detente in the competition for allies under Ms. Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, who advocated warmer relations across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing resumed its efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically after Ms. Tsai’s election in January 2016. In March 2016, shortly before Ms. Tsai took office, Beijing renewed ties with Gambia, which had severed ties with Taipei in 2013.

In December of last year, another African nation, Sao Tome and Principe, broke ties with Taiwan to forge relations with China.

Taiwanese political experts said Beijing’s pressure appeared likely to continue.

“This is a harsh reality we have to face in Taiwan that we are going to lose diplomatic allies in the next few years,” said Chen-shen Yen, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University.

Last month, China blocked Taiwan’s attendance at a meeting of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.

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