Taiwan ambassador returns from Panama

Only president of Panama and three others knew of plan to switch to China

Foreign Minister David Lee (second right) receives the flag from Ambassador Miguel Tsao (right). (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Ambassador Miguel Tsao (曹立傑) arrived back in Taiwan from Panama with a national flag Saturday morning, just days after the Latin American country switched recognition to China.

The move angered Taiwan, fueling fears of a domino effect as it has been left with only 20 official diplomatic allies, most of them small countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Africa.

Tsao was awaited at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport by Foreign Minister David Lee (李大維), who accepted the flag that had flown over the Taiwanese embassy and told reporters the country would face China’s diplomatic offensive head on.

According to new reports, Panama’s preparations for the switch were so secret that only four people knew beforehand, including President Juan Carlos Varela and Vice President Isabel Saint Malo, who also serves as foreign minister.

A key factor were the numerous Chinese investments in the Latin American country over the past few years, totaling US$25.6 billion (NT$777.8 billion), reports said. Over the past three months, Panama also obtained loans from China to the tune of US$8 billion (NT$243 billion).

Varela reportedly first mentioned diplomatic recognition during a visit to China in 2007, when he was still opposition leader. Two weeks ago, Taiwanese diplomats received intelligence that political talks were proceeding between Panama and China, reports said.

On June 12, the day of the rupture, Panama only informed the embassy 40 minutes beforehand of its intentions, and ten minutes before the president’s televised announcement, the Taiwanese still contacted his brother in Japan but he told them the decision had already been made, reports said.