Panama has cut long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of establishing relations with China, in a diplomatic coup for Beijing.
The Panamanian government said it recognised there was “only one China” and considered Taiwan part of it.
The governments in Beijing and Taipei insist that countries cannot recognise both of them. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province.
Panama is the latest to switch sides, leaving Taiwan with about 20 allies.
China is the second biggest user – after the US – of the Panama Canal, which provides a shortcut through Central America for shipping between Asia and the Americas.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it felt “anger and regret” over what it called a “very unfriendly” diplomatic turn by Panama that “yielded to economic interests by the Beijing authorities”.
It accused Panama of “bullying” Taiwan while “ignoring the many years of friendship” between the two countries, and added it would “not compete with the Beijing authorities for money diplomacy”.
In recent years, China has increased its economic investment in Panama.It was as recently as June last year that Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen visited Panama, on her first overseas trip as president.
The Panama Canal is a vital shipping route. As China expands its global trade ambitions with its One Belt One Road infrastructure-building initiative, access to the eastern coasts of both South America and the US is expected to be of growing importance for Beijing.
The switch by Panama leaves Taiwan with a handful of nations with whom it has diplomatic ties. They are:
- In Latin America and the Caribbean: Belize, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Paraguay, Honduras and Saint Lucia
- In Africa: Burkina Faso and Swaziland
- In Europe: The Holy See
- In the Pacific: Kiribati, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Palau.