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Panama switches diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China

June 13, 2017

BEIJING (AP) — Panama switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China on Tuesday, dealing a major success to Beijing in its drive to isolate the self-governing island it claims as its own territory.

Taiwan warned that the move would further alienate the island of 23 million from the 1.37 billion Chinese living across the Taiwan Strait. In Panama, President Juan Carlos Varela announced the change, which entails breaking off formal relations with Taiwan, saying in a televised address that it represents the “correct path for our country.”

A joint statement released on Monday evening in Panama said Panama and China were recognizing each other and establishing ambassadorial-level relations the same day. “The Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” the statement read.

In Taiwan, officials including President Tsai Ing-wen denounced the move as a betrayal and vowed to maintain the island’s sovereignty and international presence. “Oppression and threats are not going to help in cross-strait relations. It will on the contrary increase the discrepancy between the people” of Taiwan and China, Tsai said at a news conference.

“We will not compromise and yield under threat,” the president said. Panama had been among the largest economies to have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The island now has just 20 formal diplomatic partners, 11 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean. The island is also excluded from the United Nations and many other multinational bodies at China’s insistence.

At the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Panamanian Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo signed a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations, followed by a champagne toast.

Wang said he was sure relations between the two countries would have a “bright future.” Saint Malo said she hoped the new relationship would lead to trade, investment and tourism opportunities, in particular “exporting more goods from Panama to China.”

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary. While the sides had maintained an undeclared diplomatic truce for much of the past decade, relations have deteriorated under Tsai, who took over Taiwan’s presidency more than a year ago but has declined to endorse China’s view that Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

The past year has seen China ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, barring its representatives from attending the World Health Organization’s annual conference and other international gatherings.

Beijing cut off contacts with Taiwanese government bodies a year ago, and in recent months has also sailed an aircraft carrier strike force aground the island in a display of its growing military power.

Panama may be the first of several Taiwanese diplomatic allies to switch to China as Beijing steps up pressure on Tsai to recognize its “one China” principle, said Tang Yonghong, director of the Taiwan Economic Research Center at Xiamen University in southeastern China.

“Many Latin American countries want to have stronger ties with China for their national interests,” Tang said. Although China refused to form such ties during the previous administration of China-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, it no longer has any such qualms, Tang said.

“Now this trend could continue for a while,” Tang said. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that in breaking ties, President Varela had ignored the friendship between their countries and the efforts that Taiwan had made to help Panama’s overall development. Panama had “submitted to the Beijing authorities for economic benefits” and “lied” to the government of Taiwan, the statement said.

Taiwan will immediately cut ties, cease all bilateral cooperation projects and pull its diplomatic staff and technical advisers out of the country, the ministry said, adding that it will not “engage in competition for money diplomacy with the Beijing authorities.”

“We express our strong protest and condemnation over the Beijing authorities luring Panama into breaking ties with us, oppressing our diplomatic space to maneuver and harming the feelings of the Taiwanese people,” the statement said.

Beijing and Taipei have long competed with each other to win diplomatic recognition, at times enticing small or poor countries to switch with the promise of millions of dollars for public works projects.

Varela had suggested the possibility of switching diplomatic recognition during his presidential campaign in 2014, for historic, economic and strategic reasons. “Both nations are betting on a more interconnected world,” Varela said in a possible allusion to Chinese economic involvement in the Panama Canal. He mentioned that it was a massive Chinese vessel that was the first to pass through the canal’s expanded locks when they opened in June 2016.

China is the second-biggest client of the Panama Canal and the leading provider of merchandise to a free-commerce zone in the Panamanian city of Colon, on the country’s Caribbean coast. The loss of Panama is intended to show Tsai that continued defiance of Beijing will harm Taiwan’s overall interests, said Zhang Baohui, director of Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

“Panama was one of the more significant countries that still maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” Zhang said. “By taking away Panama, it once again teaches Tsai’s government the lesson that if she doesn’t accept the ‘one China’ principle … there will be consequences.

Zamorano reported from Panama City. Associated Press journalists Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, and Gerry Shih in Beijing contributed to this report.

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China resumes ties with Sao Tome in triumph over Taiwan

December 26, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — China and Sao Tome and Principe officially resumed diplomatic relations Monday in a triumph for Beijing over rival Taiwan after the African island nation abruptly broke away from the self-ruled island last week.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterpart from Sao Tome, Urbino Botelho, signed books at a ceremony in front of their flags at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Wang said the re-establishment of relations would bring benefits to both countries and they would hold exchanges in tourism, the media and other areas.

The move is a victory for Beijing, which considers the self-governing island of Taiwan a part of China’s territory and has been outraged by suggestions by President-elect Donald Trump that he could rethink U.S. policy that acknowledges this. Beijing and Taipei have competed for allies for much of the nearly seven decades since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait.

Most of the world does not formally recognize Taiwan as a condition of maintaining relations with China. Sao Tome and Taiwan broke ties last week, leaving 21 countries and governments, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, that have official ties with Taiwan. Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee last week accused Sao Tome of demanding “an astronomical amount of financial help,” though he did not say how much.

Sao Tome and Principe is an island nation off the coast of west-central Africa with a population of almost 200,000. The impoverished former Portuguese colony relies heavily on foreign aid. Beijing suspended its relationship with Sao Tome in 1997 after the island nation established diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

In re-establishing relations with Beijing, Botelho said Monday, “We want to redeem our mistakes in the past.” He said he hoped that more Chinese businesses would invest in his country and more Chinese tourists would visit.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement expressed its “strong disappointment and regret that Sao Tome has been confused by the diplomatic money campaign of mainland China and ignored the years of our great contributions to the health and wellbeing of the people of Sao Tome.”

As its economic, military and political clout has grown, China has become more successful in pulling away governments in a bid to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, though some countries, including the United States, maintain strong unofficial ties with Taipei.

Relations have worsened between Beijing and Taipei since independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in January. In March, China established formal diplomatic ties with the small African nation of Gambia, which had severed relations with Taiwan in 2013. That was seen as a move toward abandoning the unspoken diplomatic truce between the sides that lasted eight years under Tsai’s China-friendly predecessor.

Beijing suspended contact with the main Taiwan liaison body in June, blaming Tsai’s refusal to endorse the concept of a single Chinese nation. While just a few countries and governments still have official ties with Taiwan, Beijing is eager to play up its latest addition after Trump suggested he might not adhere to the policy that recognizes only one China unless the U.S. gains trade or other benefits, analysts say.

Wang Dong, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said Monday’s re-establishment of diplomatic ties was a warning to Taiwan that Beijing has “a lot of counter-measures” up its sleeve should they pursue independence, as well as a warning to the United States.

“The U.S. won’t gain anything if they play with the one-China policy,” he said. “It is also a warning to those in the U.S. who tolerate and support the Taiwanese independence forces.”

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.

Taiwan tells Beijing to grow up over Trump ceremony row

Taipei (AFP)

Jan 19, 2017

China should not be so “narrow-minded”, Taiwan said Thursday, after Beijing pressed Washington to block the island from attending Donald Trump’s inauguration.

A former premier will lead Taipei’s delegation as foreign dignitaries from around the world descend on the US capital for the president-elect’s swearing in.

But Beijing has asked the US to bar the self-ruling island it sees as a renegade province and part of “one China” to be reunified.

“We urge again the American side not to allow any Taiwanese official delegation to attend the US presidential inauguration ceremony and to have any kind of official contact with Taiwan,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, at a regular press briefing Thursday.

Former premier Yu Shyi-kun, who is leading Taiwan’s delegation hit back.

“Don’t be so small,” Yu, who belongs to the ruling Beijing-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party, was quoted as saying by Taiwan’s state Central News Agency.

“There hasn’t been any leader with such a narrow mind in all Chinese dynasties,” added Yu, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Since Trump was elected in November, there have been a series of diplomatic upsets, with China incensed by a protocol-smashing phone call between the billionaire and Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen.

It was further angered by Trump’s suggestion that the “one China” policy could be negotiable and demanded Washington ban Taipei from the inauguration.

A Taiwanese delegation has attended in previous years, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, but never includes the island’s president.

Washington remains Taiwan’s most powerful ally and arms supplier even though it switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Chiu Chui-cheng, spokesman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council which handles China affairs, called Beijing’s rhetoric “unhelpful for the normal development” of relations.

“There is no need for China to restrict or suppress Taiwan’s regular interactions and exchanges with the US”, he said.

Taiwan’s delegation also includes some legislators including pro-independence rocker-turned-politician Freddy Lim of the New Power Party, which is calling for Taiwan to be recognized internationally as a country.

Ties with China have turned increasingly frosty since Tsai took office last year, with Beijing cutting off official communication with her government.

Beijing has recently stepped up military drills — its only aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait last week, and military aircraft passed near Taiwan twice late last year in what was seen as a show of strength.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_tells_Beijing_to_grow_up_over_Trump_ceremony_row_999.html.

Taiwan begins F-16 upgrade program

Taipei, Taiwan (UPI)

Jan 17, 2017

A $3.4 billion Taiwanese program to upgrade its F-16A/B Fighting Falcons got underway this week with the first four aircraft flown to a plant in Taichung.

The retrofitting of the aircraft to a “V” configuration is being performed by Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. in Taichung with Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the aircraft.

According to the Taipei Times, the four aircraft will complete the upgrade process by the end of this year. About 25 to 28 planes of the air force’s F-16A/B fleet will undergo modernization each year until 2023.

Taiwan has a total of 144 Fighting Falcons.

Upgrades under Taiwan’s Phoenix Rising Project includes fitting of the aircraft with active electronically scanned array fire-control radar, which enables F-16Vs to detect stealth aircraft.

The Taiwanese fighters are also to be equipped with advanced avionics, including a new flight management system and a helmet-mounted display system.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Taiwan_begins_F-16_upgrade_program_999.html.

Taiwan ex-premier heading delegation to Trump inauguration

January 17, 2017

BEIJING (AP) — A former premier will represent Taiwan at Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday, a visit likely to be closely scrutinized by China for signs the incoming president intends to make good on remarks suggesting a shake-up in relations between Taipei, Washington and Beijing.

Yu Shyi-kun will be joined by lawmakers and local government officials representing both the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Nationalists, the Foreign Ministry announced. It said the delegation, which intends to “express the importance our government and people place on close friendly bilateral relations,” left Monday.

Along with attending the inauguration, the delegation will hold talks with politicians, academics and overseas Chinese community representatives, the ministry said in a statement on its website. “Taiwan-U.S. relations have a lengthy history and have made significant progress in recent years,” the statement said. Congratulating Trump on his election, it said the government would “continue to strengthen Taiwan-U.S. relations in future on the basis of excellent mutual trust and interaction.”

The U.S. has no formal relations with Taipei in deference to China, which claims the island as its own. However, the two maintain robust informal ties, while Washington sells Taiwan arms and is legally bound to regard any threat to the island as a matter of grave concern.

Trump upset decades of diplomatic precedent by talking by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after his victory in November’s presidential election. Last week, he said in a newspaper interview that Washington’s “one China policy” under which it recognized Beijing in 1979 was open to negotiation, and had earlier questioned why the U.S. should be bound by such an approach without China offering incentives.

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the “one-China principle” regarding Taiwan is not negotiable and any attempt to reconsider the issue would be self-defeating. “Not everything in the world can be bargained or traded off,” Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

China threatens to use force to assert control over Taiwan and tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen since Tsai’s election last year. Beijing has cut off contacts with her government and is using its diplomatic clout to further isolate the island.

Yu served as premier under former President Chen Shui-bian, who was despised by Beijing for his defiantly pro-independence stance.

Taiwan won’t cave to Beijing threats, says president

Taipei (AFP)

Dec 31, 2016

Taiwan will not bend to pressure despite China returning to its “old ways” of intimidation, President Tsai Ing-wen said Saturday, following Beijing’s protests over her call to US President-elect Donald Trump.

China has stepped up military drills near Taiwan since the call earlier in December, in a move seen as putting on a show of strength as its ties with the self-ruled island and the United States deteriorate.

The call with Trump upended decades of diplomatic precedent in which Washington has effectively ignored Taipei in favour of Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be brought back within its fold.

In her end-of-year address, Tsai urged calm from Beijing and warned that recent actions by China were affecting cross-strait stability.

“Beijing authorities are returning to their old ways of isolating and suppressing Taiwan, and even of threats and intimidation,” Tsai said.

“We hope this is not a policy decision by Beijing,” she said. “We won’t bend to pressure yet we also won’t return to the old path of confrontation.”

The Taiwanese leader called on Beijing to resume dialogue to find a “reasonable” solution.

China cut off official communications with Tsai’s government after it refused to accept Beijing’s interpretation of the “One China” concept.

Taiwan’s defense minister warned Tuesday that enemy threats were growing daily after China’s aircraft carrier and a flotilla of other warships passed south of the island.

Tsai said Saturday that Taiwan was “sufficiently capable” of handling the challenges and changes it was facing, whether they were national defense or economic issues, and that people should not “overly panic”.

The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war but Beijing still claims the self-ruling island as part of its territory and has not ruled out using force to bring about unification.

The Taiwan Strait that separates them has been heavily fortified for decades.

“Whether cross-strait relations can be turned around next year depends on our patience and belief,” Tsai told reporters.

Tsai is scheduled to transit through the United States when she travels to Central America in January, stopping in Houston and San Francisco.

Beijing has asked Washington to bar Tsai from flying through its airspace.

She did not confirm whether she would be meeting with any officials in Trump’s team during her stopover.

Tsai said diplomatic relations with Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador — the Central American nations she will visit — were all “considered stable”.

The comment comes amid speculation Taiwan may lose more allies after the small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe cut ties with the island in favour of Beijing in late December.

That leaves Taiwan with formal diplomatic ties to only 21 states, including the Vatican, its highest profile supporter.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_wont_cave_to_Beijing_threats_says_president_999.html.

Taiwan loses diplomatic ally in move welcomed by Beijing

December 21, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan on Wednesday condemned the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe’s “abrupt” move to break their diplomatic ties, while rival China welcomed the defection of one of the self-governing island’s small number of allies.

Just 21 countries and governments now have official ties with Taiwan. Most of the world and the United Nations do not formally recognize the island as a condition of maintaining relations with China, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory.

Beijing and Taipei have competed for allies for much of the nearly seven decades since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait. As its economic, military and political clout has grown, China has become more successful in pulling away governments in a bid to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, though some countries, including the United States, maintain strong unofficial ties with Taipei.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee accused Sao Tome of demanding “an astronomical amount of financial help,” though he did not say how much. A Taiwanese foreign ministry statement said Sao Tome had been trying to “gain a higher price by lingering on both sides of the strait.”

Taiwan “regrets the Sao Tome and Principe government’s abrupt and unfriendly decision, and condemns this action,” the statement said. Sao Tome and Principe is an island nation off the coast of central Africa, with a population of almost 200,000. The impoverished former Portuguese colony relies heavily on foreign aid.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that it welcomed the decision to “break the so-called ‘diplomatic’ ties with Taiwan.” China did not say whether it would resume its own diplomatic relationship with Sao Tome, though the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported that Sao Tome would seek to recognize China. Beijing suspended its relationship with Sao Tome in 1997 after the island nation established diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

According to Lusa, Sao Tome’s government issued a statement saying its officials faced the “increasingly fierce defense of national interests” by other countries. The government also cited Sao Tome’s “transformation agenda and millennium development goals” in making the decision to break with Taiwan.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, would not say Wednesday whether China made a financial commitment to Sao Tome. But Hua said China would consider “friendly and cooperative” relationships with other countries based on its “one-China policy.”

“There is only one China in the world,” Hua said. She added, “By cutting ties with Taiwan, Sao Tome and Principe is showing its recognition to the one-China principle.” Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies are mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as several Pacific island nations and the Holy See. Just two African nations remain on Taipei’s side: Burkina Faso and Swaziland. One former African ally, Gambia, broke with Taiwan in 2013 and established formal ties with China this year.

Longtime observers of China predicted that Beijing might redouble its efforts to pull away Taiwan’s allies after a Dec. 2 phone call between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and President-elect Donald Trump, the first time an American president or president-elect had publicly spoken to a Taiwanese leader since the U.S. ended its formal relationship with Taiwan in 1979.

The call infuriated China, which accused Tsai’s government of playing a “trick” and later warned Trump about challenging Beijing on the issue of Taiwan. China’s foreign ministry did not mention the call in its Wednesday statement.

Associated Press news researcher Liu Zheng contributed to this report.

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