China's Xi meets Kiribati leader after switch from Taiwan

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping stand together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in...
Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in ...
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the Pe...
Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in ...
Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau reacts during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark S...
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People i...
Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, speaks during a meeting with Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Mond...
Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, center, listens as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing...

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping stand together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in...

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in ...

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the Pe...

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in ...

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau reacts during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark S...

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People i...

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, speaks during a meeting with Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Mond...

Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, center, listens as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing...

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping lauded Kiribati on Monday for “standing on the right side of history” during his first meeting with the Pacific island nation's leader since it severed ties with Taiwan.

Kiribati switched allegiances to Communist Party-ruled China in September, leaving Taiwan with just 15 allies as Beijing has steadily siphoned them off through billions of dollars in aid since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.

Tsai is favored to win a second term in this Saturday's election, an outcome that would likely intensify China’s economic, diplomatic and military pressure over her refusal to accept its insistence that Taiwan is a part of China. Since her election, China has increasingly sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically while ramping up its threat to use force to annex the self-governing island republic.

Speaking to Xi, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau reaffirmed his administration's commitment to the “One China” principle and expressed his “deepest respect” for the Chinese government's sovereignty.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and wants the island to reunite with the mainland, from which it split during a civil war in 1949. Beijing resents Tsai for rejecting its precondition for dialogue that both belong to a single China. It has flown military aircraft near the island and pared back Taiwan-bound tourism to add pressure on her government.

Taiwan has responded by seeking to purchase arms from the U.S., including advanced fighter jets. Despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Last month, less than two weeks before this weekend's presidential and legislative elections, Taiwan's legislature passed a law aimed at blocking political interference from China.