Dominican Republic breaks with Taiwan to establish ties with China

A Taiwanese navy flotilla docked in Nicaragua in April in a high-profile visit highlighting ties with Central America and the Caribbean that are shrinking as China presses countries in the region to drop diplomatic relations

Beijing (AFP) – The Dominican Republic and China announced they were establishing diplomatic relations Tuesday, as the Caribbean country became the latest nation to dump Taiwan, leaving the island with just 19 diplomatic allies around the globe.

Taipei said it was “deeply upset” at the decision to sever ties, which deepens its international isolation while its giant neighbour flexes its economic and political might on the global stage.

The Dominican Republic said it believed its switch to ties with China would be “extraordinarily positive for the future of our country”, in an official statement.

“The Dominican Republic recognises that there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory,” it added.

Taiwan is a self-ruling democracy which sees itself as a sovereign nation but has never formally declared independence from the mainland. Beijing considers it a renegade province to be brought back into the fold and is upping international pressure to prevent any recognition of the island. 

Beijing announced Tuesday morning that it would exchange ambassadors with the Dominican Republic “as soon as practicable”.

At an emergency press conference, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu said the government “deeply regrets that Dominican Republic and China established ties on May 1”.

Wu said the ministry “strongly condemns China’s objectionable decision to use dollar diplomacy to convert Taiwan’s diplomatic allies” and accused Beijing of failing to follow through on its promises to those countries it had wooed away.

Its actions had damaged cross-strait relations and eroded trust, said Wu, who blamed China’s financial incentives for ending the 77-year alliance with Dominican Republic.

The Caribbean country’s ambassador in Taipei had been summoned by the foreign ministry to express Taiwan’s protest and to tell him to close the embassy, Wu said.

– Vatican next? –

Taiwan now has 19 diplomatic allies left — 10 in Latin America and the Caribbean, two in Africa, six small island nations in the Pacific, and the Vatican.

Beijing and the Holy See severed diplomatic relations in 1951 and remain at odds over the appointment of bishops.

But an apparent warming of relations between China and the Vatican — considered Taiwan’s most powerful remaining official ally — has triggered concerns that the Holy See may also switch allegiance from Taiwan to China, which would come as a crushing blow to Taipei.

Wu insisted that ties with the Holy See “would not be in immediate danger”, even if there were to be a breakthrough agreement on designating bishops in China.

Taipei has lost allies as decades of Cold War era ties with Central America and the Caribbean have dwindled.

In June last year, Panama cut ties with Taipei to open relations with Beijing. Costa Rica did so in 2007.

Taipei’s Mainland Affairs Council slammed the Dominican Republic’s move, blaming Beijing for undermining cross-strait ties.

“We call on China to immediately stop provocative actions of exerting extreme political and military pressure on Taiwan,” they said.

– ‘A warning’ –

The government of President Tsai Ing-wen is trying to push Taiwan’s international profile but is coming up against a concerted effort by Beijing to shrink its space on global platforms.

Taiwan is regularly shut out of influential forums as organisers come under pressure from Beijing not to recognise the island as a valid participant.

Mainland China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since 1949.

Beijing has consistently said it wants President Tsai to recognise that Taiwan is part of “one China” but she has not done so.

Comments by premier William Lai expressing his personal support for Taiwan’s independence have further riled Beijing.

“Given the current cross-strait political climate things like this (losing an ally) are bound to happen sooner or later, it’s just a matter of when and which country,” said political analyst Tang Shao-chengat the National Chengchi University in Taipei

“The timing of China establishing ties with the Dominican Republic is meant as a warning for Taiwan not to cross the red line to show support for Taiwan independence, since (Beijing’s) recent verbal intimidation and sabre-rattling did not yield desirable results,” she said.