he Central American country of El Salvador has severed ties with Taipei and established diplomatic relations with Beijing, leaving the Republic of China with only 17 allies left in the world, a number that is swiftly shrinking down to zero.
At an early morning press conference today, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu announced that Taipei had terminated bilateral ties with El Salvador, a move made after learning that the Latin American nation was just about to officially severe relations and switch over to Beijing’s side. Wu added that all diplomatic staff would be recalled, all cooperative projects ended, and that the Taiwanese embassy would be removed from the country’s capital.
Wu claimed that Taiwan’s relationship with El Salvador finally fractured over the issue of money with the San Salvador government demanding that Taipei help fund a large port project and provide monetary support for the ruling party’s campaign in the upcoming presidential election. Wu said that Taipei had been asked to pay an “enormous sum” for the port project, which he said would only end up leaving both Taiwan and El Salvador in debt.
“As a responsible member of the global community, Taiwan will not engage in dollar nor debt-trap diplomacy,” Wu wrote on Twitter. “This is why El Salvador’s repeated requests for assistance with an unfeasible port development were declined. We worked tirelessly to preserve our countries’ friendship & ties, but couldn’t compete with the allure of “easy money” & pressing needs of a political party.”
“Taiwan is a sovereign nation & beacon of freedom & democracy,” he continued. “It will never be cowed by China’s relentless suppression of its international space. Such efforts only serve to galvanize the people & strengthen the will to resist.”
It’s with a heavy heart & great sadness I announce the termination of diplomatic relations between #Taiwan & #ElSalvador. Our embassy & technical missions are to be evacuated & all cooperation programs ended. As a responsible member of the global community, Taiwan will not …
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) August 21, 2018
Only a few hours after Wu’s announcement, El Salvador officials signed a joint communique in Beijing establishing diplomatic relations with China while the country’s president Salvador Sanchez went on TV to break the news to his country.
Shortly ahead of this diplomatic reversal, US Senator Marco Rubio, Congress’s top China-basher, tweeted that if El Salvador went ahead with its switching of ties, he “will have no choice but to immediately begin work to end their funding & remove them from
#AllianceForProsperity plan,” claiming that the US response will be different than when nations have ditched Taiwan in the past.
The U.S. response to #Panama & #DominicanRepublic switching from #Taiwan to #China is NOT the way we will react if #ElSalvador does the same. If they do this I will have no choice but to immediately begin work to end their funding & remove them from #AllianceForProsperity plan.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 20, 2018
Of course, it’s not like the US has diplomatic relations with Taiwan either. Now, only 17 countries officially recognize the Republic of China, most of them impoverished states in Latin America or the Pacific Ocean. Already this year, Taiwan has lost two other allies in Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic as Beijing has continued to turn up the pressure on Tsai Ing-wen’s government by splashing its money around.
Since Tsai took office in 2016 as the head of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan has seen a total of seven countries switch sides with Beijing obviously looking to isolate the self-ruled island that it considers a breakaway province. This latest defection comes just one day after Tsai returned home from a trip to visit Latin American allies.
On Twitter, Mexico’s former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, writes that Taiwan’s diplomatic standing is that of a “dead man walking,” predicting that if the Vatican decides to ditch Taipei (as many reports have suggested over the past year), then “it’s game over.”
Since I left China (2013), Panama, Dominican Republic and El Salvador, from Latin America, have left Taiwan for Beijing. The big holdout, the be-all-end-all for Taiwan, is the Vatican. If the Vatican leaves Taipei, it’s game over. https://t.co/gSVhegnwVz
— Jorge Guajardo (@jorge_guajardo) August 21, 2018
However, it’s not clear what happens after “game over.” Mike Forsythe of the New York Times speculates that once China manages to snatch away Taipei’s last ally, it will find itself with a bigger problem on its hands — a Taiwan with no political bond to China.
Seems like this is a dangerous game Beijing is playing. At some point, if all its embassies disappear, will Taiwan just totally abandon the already fanciful idea that it is the “Republic of China” and become just Taiwan, with no political bond to China? https://t.co/R2aRUUV6Vw
— Mike Forsythe 傅才德 (@PekingMike) August 21, 2018
While chipping away at Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, Beijing has also been busy pressuring international companies to choose sides. This year, a number of well-known brands, from Marriott to Gap to Delta have issued public apologies for violating the “one China” policy and hurting Chinese feelings by implying in one way or another that Taiwan is a country.
Most recently, the Taiwanese coffee chain 85°C has been removed from Chinese food apps and has faced boycott calls after Tsai Ing-wen paid a brief to one of their outlets in Los Angeles. 85°C responded with a groveling apology, voicing its firm support for the 1992 Consensus.