The Solomon Islands is the latest country to switch their diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with only 16 countries that officially recognize it as an independent nation after El Salvador, Burkina Faso, and the Dominican Republic, among others, made a similar move in recent years. From Chris Horton at The New York Times:
Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister, said at a news conference on Monday that Taiwan had learned that the Solomons, an archipelago east of Australia, had chosen to end 36 years of recognition of Taiwan’s government, leaving only 16 countries that maintain official relations with Taipei. These countries are the most likely to speak up for Taiwan in international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, where Taipei is not a member.
[…] In a statement, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused China of bribing Solomons politicians to abandon Taipei in the run-up to the 70th anniversary on Oct. 1 of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party.
“The government of China has once again resorted to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China’s National Day,” the statement said. “Beijing’s purpose is to diminish Taiwan’s international presence, hurt the Taiwanese people, and gradually suppress and eliminate Taiwan’s sovereignty.”
Washington broke official ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing as a Cold War counterweight against the Soviet Union. But Taiwan has remained an important, if unofficial, American ally in East Asia. [Source]
Taiwanese officials accused the Chinese government of pressuring the Solomon Islands as a way to exert pressure on Taiwan ahead of presidential and legislative elections next January. At Reuters, Lee Yimou reports:
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Tsai said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure, describing the Solomon Islands’ decision as new evidence that Beijing is trying to meddle in the January elections.
“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 emphasize 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 and uphold the “One China” principle, adding it was part of an “irresistible trend”. [Source]
President Tsai Ing-wen, who is campaigning for reelection, responded on Twitter:
The end of our relations with Solomon Islands reflects China’s unceasing efforts to lure away our allies, damage the morale of the Taiwanese people, & force us to accept "one country, two systems.” To this, the people of #Taiwan say: not a chance. https://t.co/76IzMSAOyx
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) September 16, 2019
It’s with great regret we end diplomatic ties with #SolomonIslands. 36 years of cooperation & friendship were no match for #Disinformation, falsehoods & dollar diplomacy. #Taiwan remains undaunted & will continue as a force for good in the world. Read on: https://t.co/cFfakxtKOD.
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) ?? (@MOFA_Taiwan) September 16, 2019
Ahead of the decision, Taipei sent a delegation to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to discuss the matter. While Beijing is reported to have offered the Solomon Islands financial incentives to make the switch, some in the Solomons believe siding with China carries financial risks. Gerry Shih at the Washington Post further examines the campaign waged by Beijing to woo more diplomatic allegiances away from Taiwan:
The island nation’s defection whittled the number of countries that recognize Taiwan down to just 16 after Beijing flipped key allies, including the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, in recent years, over objections from Washington.
The development intensifies pressure on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has struggled to counter a mounting Chinese economic and diplomatic blockade designed to force Taiwan, a democracy of 23 million people, to the table for unification talks.
[…] Since Tsai’s victory, China has pressured international corporations to recognize Taiwan as a part of China and successfully persuaded a half-dozen countries to swap allegiances, using generous aid packages to escalate pressure on Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai was beaten soundly in local elections last year and faces reelection in 2020.
A task force formed by the Solomon Islands’ Parliament recommended this month that the government switch ties and set up a diplomatic mission in Beijing. Taiwan shot back with a warning last week that the country would fall into “economic slavery” if it aligned with China. [Source]
In recent years, China has raised the pressure on foreign governments, celebrities, and corporations to publicly acknowledge Taiwan as part of China. It has also exerted pressure on Taiwan by limiting the ability of mainland tourists to travel to the island, barring Chinese filmmakers and actors from attending the prestigious Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, and attempting to influence the local Taiwanese media. Usually tense cross-strait relations have deteriorated further since Tsai’s 2016 election, especially as the U.S. has shown greater support for Taiwan. Some U.S. legislators expressed support for Taiwan in the wake of the Solomon Islands’ announcement, despite the fact that the U.S. itself broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979:
I am disappointed by reports that the Solomon Islands has severed its relationship with Taiwan. This will be an important topic of our hearing with @USAsiaPacific
Assistant Secretary Stilwell at 10 am on Wednesday. https://t.co/g3YJQKzZlW
— U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SenateForeign) September 16, 2019
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 16, 2019