Kiribati switches recognition to China, Taiwan loses second Pacific ally in one week

President Tsai calls Kiribati's decision to become 'China’s chess piece' a big mistake

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President Tsai Ing-wen comments on the severance of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Kiribati on Sept. 20 (Source: Presidential Office)

President Tsai Ing-wen comments on the severance of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Kiribati on Sept. 20 (Source: Presidential Office)

[Last update at 17:00 p.m. Sept. 20]

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has lost its second Pacific ally in a single week as Kiribati moves to switch recognition to China, leaving the island nation with only 15 allies.

The Taiwanese government “deeply regrets” that Kiribati has decided to switch diplomatic ties to China, said President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday (Sept. 20) afternoon. It is “a big mistake” for the Pacific country to give up on a sincere friend and become “China’s chess piece,” she added.

“The government of the Republic of Kiribati officially notified our government on Sept. 20 that it is terminating diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” said Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) at a press conference earlier on Friday afternoon. Wu declared that Taiwan would end formal relations with Kiribati effective immediately.

The government will call off all bilateral projects, withdrawing its embassy, diplomats, and technical and medical missions based in the Pacific nation, Wu confirmed. He added that Kiribati has likewise been asked to recall its government personnel from Taiwan.

▶︎ Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at a press conference on Sept. 20 (Source: CNA)

This comes as yet another blow to Taiwan, as its 36-year diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands were ended on Monday after the Pacific island state’s cabinet voted in favor of switching ties to China.

According to Wu, the Kiribati government had repeatedly asked Taiwan to provide considerable financial assistance, including donations of commercial airplanes. These demands were rejected by the Taiwanese government, as they did not align with the country’s policy regarding aiding allies, Wu said.

Wu disclosed that the Chinese authorities had promised Kiribati “full funds for the procurement of several airplanes and commercial ferries” in its effort to convince it to switch ties. Kiribati established diplomatic relations with China for the first time in 1980 before switching recognition to Taiwan in 2003.

The foreign minister denied that the Solomon Islands’ decision on Monday had kicked off a domino effect in the Pacific. He said the country’s relations with its remaining allies in the region, including the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu, remain stable.

Wu emphasized that Taiwan currently has very close relationships with these four allies despite acknowledging that some figures within the countries might be in contact with Chinese authorities. He declined to provide further information on the matter, adding that Kiribati had decided to follow in the footsteps of the Solomon Islands, as government intelligence had indicated.

Taiwan has lost seven allies within three years since Tsai took office in 2016. The Tsai administration has condemned China for poaching its diplomatic supporters in order to reduce Taiwan’s global standing and warned its remaining allies of Beijing’s dollar diplomacy and debt trap, which entails astronomical financial loans that many countries are ultimately unable to pay off.

In recent years, the Chinese government has pressured international organizations to ban Taiwan’s participation, and forced global private enterprises to label Taiwan as part of Chinese territory in an effort to isolate the island and diminish its sovereignty.

In her statement, Tsai said the government has full knowledge of its diplomatic relations. She warned Taiwanese that Beijing’s campaign of suppression and coercion against the island country in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections next January would only become more intense.

During the press conference, Wu castigated China for attempting to manipulate public opinion in Taiwan ahead of the key elections and for trying to “ultimately destroy Taiwan’s sovereignty.” The government will “stand firm in upholding Taiwan’s sovereignty in the face of China’s diplomatic assault,” he stressed.

The foreign minister urged the international community to express its condemnation of the Chinese government. They ought to “bear in mind that the goal of the Chinese authoritarian government is to destroy democratic systems and gradually expand its brand of authoritarianism,” Wu added.