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China retaliates against Tsai's U.S. stopover by snatching ally

2018/08/21 21:31:43

CNA file photo

Taipei, Aug. 21 (CNA) El Salvador's switch of diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China was orchestrated by Beijing in "retaliation" for President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) recent transit stops in the United States, National Taiwan University Professor William Stanton said Tuesday.

The timing of El Salvador's switch to China was intended to coincide with Tsai's visit to the U.S. because China is clearly unhappy, Stanton, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, told CNA in a telephone interview.

On Tuesday, Taiwan announced the termination of diplomatic ties with El Salvador before the Central American country signed a joint communique with China on the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The development came one day after Tsai returned from a trip to Paraguay and Belize, via Los Angeles and Houston, where she was allowed to engage in some activities that were unprecedented for a Taiwanese president, including visiting a U.S. federal agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"It's always standard practice for Beijing to protest any transit, even the most minor transit, as a way of ensuring minimum reception by anyone," Stanton said. "In fact, they never accept the idea that she (Tsai) needs to transit in the States at all.

He said Beijing likely had been working on El Salvador for some time to make the change happen "as sort of a countermeasure to Tsai's visit to the U.S."

Since Tsai took office in May 2016, Taiwan has lost five diplomatic allies, including also Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Burkina Faso, and is now left with 17.

Stanton said China can take all of Taiwan's allies, partly because they are mostly small countries, and partly because China is willing to do anything to make its point. On the other hand, he said, attention should be paid to the fact that some countries that have gotten money from China are not happy.

For example, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is reviewing the viability of major China-linked projects in his country, Stanton said.

China is bent on trying to take away all of Taiwan's diplomatic partners as a way of pressuring Taiwan, to make Taiwan look weak, to further isolate Taiwan, and to influence the political situation in Taiwan, he said.

While some people might consider the number of diplomatic allies as symbolic, it would be of greater significance for Taiwan to expand its informal diplomatic relations with other more important countries and to increase its bilateral trade agreements, the professor said.

Stanton said he has great confidence in the Taiwanese people and their ability to make the right decision.

"You have come a long way in a short period of time, as I always say in my talks, from dictatorship to democracy, from poverty to prosperity, in under 40 years."

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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