TAIPEI, Taiwan—President Tsai Ing-wen had stern words for Beijing at a press conference on Sept. 16, after the island’s diplomatic ally, the Solomon Islands, voted to drop recognition of Taiwan in favor of China.
“Taiwan will never compete against Beijing in dollar diplomacy … this is not how we engage in diplomatic relationships. What’s more, China’s promise of aid is often an empty check,” Tsai said, referring to China’s pattern of providing investments and loans to Taiwan’s allies so they will switch their diplomatic ties.
According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called a meeting of the coalition government caucus earlier in the day. Twenty-seven members voted in favor of a diplomatic switch to Beijing, six abstained their vote, and zero voted in favor of maintaining ties with Taiwan—thus ending the South Pacific island nation’s 36 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said in a statement that Taipei would immediately close its embassy in the Solomon Islands and recall all its diplomats.
Taiwan now has only 16 international diplomatic allies. After Tsai took office in 2016, Beijing has ramped up pressure on the self-ruled island’s allies in an attempt to diminish Taiwan’s presence on the international stage.
The Chinese regime considers Taiwan part of its territory despite the fact that the island is a full-fledged democracy with its own elected officials, military, and currency.
On Sept. 16, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying told reporters that Beijing welcomed the diplomatic switch. “We welcome the Solomon Islands in seizing a historical opportunity … to blend into the big family of cooperation between China and Pacific island countries.”
Tsai is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally advocates for the island to formally declare independence from the mainland, though she has said she wishes to maintain the status quo.
El Salvador, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and São Tomé and Príncipe all switched diplomatic ties to Beijing after 2016.
“In the past few years, China has resorted to money and political pressure to suppress Taiwanese’s international space,” Tsai said.
“We want to give our utmost condemnation. This is not only a threat to Taiwan, but it is also an open challenge and dismantling of international order.”
There were unconfirmed Taiwanese media reports that Beijing had promised to offer the Solomon Islands $500 million in aid once the island decided to switch diplomatic recognition.
Tsai didn’t address the reports, but warned that Beijing will likely apply even more pressure in the near future, in an attempt to influence Taiwan’s upcoming elections.
Taiwan will hold presidential and legislative elections in January 2020; Tsai will be running for her reelection.
By reducing the number of Taiwan allies and putting pressure on the DPP, Beijing is effectively swaying public opinion against DPP candidates and for DPP’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which leans pro-Beijing.
Tsai said that Beijing’s tactic of withering down Taiwan’s allies was for the purpose of pressing the island into accepting the “one country, two systems” model. However, she said that Taiwanese people’s rejection of the model is the “biggest consensus on the island.”
In January, Chinese leader Xi Jinping suggested that the model—currently adopted in Hong Kong, whereby the former British colony would retain autonomy while under Chinese sovereignty—could be a way to bring Taiwan under the reign of Beijing. Thousands attended a march in April expressing rejection of the proposal, while ongoing Hong Kong protests against Beijing’s encroachment of city affairs have led many Taiwanese to hold solidarity rallies and local politicians from both parties to express disapproval for “one country, two systems.”
Prior to the Solomons’ vote on Sept. 16, Taiwan tried to salvage ties with the island nation by dispatching Deputy Foreign Minister Hsu Szu-chien, who arrived in the Solomon Islands earlier on Sept. 16. According to Taiwanese media, Hsu was welcomed by members of several local NGOs and religious groups, as well as Collin Beck, the country’s deputy foreign minister.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a press release before Tsai’s press conference, stated that Beijing has “bought off a few [Solomon] politicians” and pushed the Solomons government into breaking off ties with Taiwan before Beijing celebrates its National Day on Oct. 1.
“Taiwan has never lowered its head after encountering setbacks in the international community,” the press release stated. “We will let the international community realize that, compared to authoritarian expansionists, Taiwan is at the forefront of democracy, and it will be steadily become a global model for democracy.”
It also urged the international community to beware of Beijing’s “debt trap” strategy in the Indo-Pacific, whereby the Chinese regime offers high-interest loans to developing countries.
In the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, for example, China has financed the island with hundreds of millions of dollars for building its infrastructure. China currently accounts for nearly half of Vanuatu’s $440 million foreign debt, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.