Panama is one of the few remaining countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of Beijing. While Beijing is usually eager to have countries switch allegiances to the mainland, officials rejected an offer from new President Ricardo Martinelli in 2009 in order to keep up their own positive momentum with Taipei, according to cables released by Wikileaks. From AP:
The Feb. 23, 2010-dated cable from then U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson came in the midst of President Ma Ying-jeou’s efforts to improve ties with China. The cable was released May 8.
Stephenson wrote in the cable that Martinelli had told her in May 2009, the month he won national elections by a landslide, that he would recognize Beijing because “he thought that Panama’s business community would benefit as a result.”
Stephenson said Martinelli’s high hopes were dashed when his Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela was told by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during an Asia visit in January 2010 that Beijing would not take on Panama to avoid foiling warming cross-strait ties.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing still claims Taiwan as its own. Before Ma assumed office, the two sides had long fought a battle for diplomatic recognition, often resorting to lavishing funds on existing and potential allies.