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Taiwan breaks ties with Panama (update)

2017/06/13 13:11:39

Foreign Minister David Lee

Taipei, June 13 (CNA) Taiwan is cutting diplomatic ties with Panama after the Central American country switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Foreign Minister David Lee (李大維) announced Tuesday.

"To safeguard our nation's sovereignty and dignity, we've decided to terminate diplomatic ties with Panama immediately," Lee said at a press conference at which he also expressed Taiwan's "deep anger and regret" toward Panama's decision.

Taiwan will also halt all bilateral cooperative projects, cut all assistance to Panama, and pull out its diplomatic staff and technical missions from the country, Lee said.

Even though the two countries had diplomatic ties for over a century, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela caved in to Beijing for "economic interests" and ignored Taiwan's long-term assistance that supported its overall development, Lee charged.

Lee described Panama's diplomatic switch as "most unfriendly" and accused Panama of "deceiving the Republic of China government to the last moment," and he expressed Taiwan's "strong dissatisfaction and anger" over the moves.

But he reaffirmed that Taiwan will not engage in a contest of "checkbook diplomacy" with Beijing.

Taiwan also "strongly protests and condemns Beijing for luring Panama to switch diplomatic ties, squeezing Taiwan's space in the international community and hurting the Taiwanese people's feelings."

Though Lee bashed Panama for keeping Taiwan in the dark about the move, there were signs of Panama's intentions, and Taiwan used every means to keep the Central American country from moving in that direction, the foreign minister said, without going into detail of what Taiwan tried to do.

One of the signs was that Panama never announced a successor after Panama's ambassador to Taiwan Alfredo Martiz Fuentes left his post on April 30 to take over as Panama's social security chief, even though Martiz told President Tsai on April 20 that bilateral relations were solid.

Also, Taiwan's new ambassador to Panama Miguel Tsao (曹立傑) was never able to present credentials after arriving there in mid-May.

The change in ties comes nearly a year after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) visited Panama in June 2016 on her first overseas state visit after taking office in May to cement ties with the country.

During the visit, Tsai attended the inaugural ceremony of the expanded Panama Canal and witnessed Taiwan's donation of 3,000 boxes of flu medicine to the country in an effort to help Panama combat a H1N1 flu epidemic.

Taiwan's response came after President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama announced earlier Tuesday Taiwan time that Panama was establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Panama's Vice President Isabel Saint Malo signed a joint communiqué with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) in Beijing on Tuesday establishing diplomatic relations in which Panama stressed it would not maintain any official ties with Taiwan.

Panama also agreed to recognize that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it.

Panama's decision leaves Taiwan with only 20 diplomatic allies in the world, 11 of them being in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The decision was widely seen as part of China's mounting efforts to squeeze Taiwan since Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, which has adopted a less conciliatory attitude toward China than its predecessor, took office on May 20, 2016.

Bilateral relations between Panama and the Republic of China went back more than a century. The two sides established diplomatic ties on Jan. 16, 1910 when China was still under the Qing dynasty, to be soon succeeded by the Republic of China.

The Central American nation was the second diplomatic ally to cut ties with Taiwan since Tsai took office, the first being Sao Tome and Principe, which recognized Beijing in December 2016.

In March 2016, two months after Tsai won the presidential election, China re-established official ties with Gambia, more than two years after the small West African country cut off relations with Taiwan, then under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Despite longstanding ties, Taiwan could not compete with China in terms of economic influence in Panama.

In the first 11 months of 2016, Panama was only Taiwan's 72nd largest trading partner with bilateral trade totaling US$148.12 million.

Panama has actively sought to establish ties with China in the past. According to a diplomatic message of the U.S. State Department released by WikiLeaks, Panama tried to open relations with Beijing in 2009 without success.

(By Scarlett Chai and Lilian Wu)
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