Panama cuts diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing

Panama cuts diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing”

Panama President Juan Carlos Varela announced the change in a televised address on Tuesday, saying it represents "the correct path for our country".

There are 191 Panamanians studying in Taiwan, and they could be affected by Panama's severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the Ministry of Education said yesterday.

Panama, a small Central American nation that tilted the balance of cross-strait relations further against Taipei by switching its official recognition to Beijing on Tuesday, actually first attempted to do so almost a decade ago.

China, which considers self-ruled Taiwan a renegade province waiting to be reunited with the mainland, has been infuriated by President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to acknowledge the island is part of "one China", unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

The competition between Taiwan and China for the affections of small states mostly located in Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific has been fierce. But some analysts and diplomats had predicted that it could be the next to break ties with Taiwan. Tsai even went to Panama in June for her first overseas trip as president in order to build on their relationship.

Today, Chinese ships are the number two users of the Panama Canal, the Central American country's main source of budget revenue.

Speaking to Radio Sputnik, China observer Andrew Leung outlined why Panama City and Beijing made the move to establish relations now, and why Panamanian authorities decided that that their relationship with Taipei was no longer bringing them any dividends. Since Taiwan split from China after a civil war in 1949, Beijing has used its power to try and isolate the tiny island, excluding it from global bodies like the United Nations and limiting its potential for economic growth. Diplomatic tussles between Taiwan and Beijing eased under the island's previous Beijing-friendly government.

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The steady attrition has left Taiwan with just two allies in Africa: Burkina Faso in the west and the Kingdom of Swaziland in the south. Taiwan's relations with its remaining Central and South American allies-Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay-are partly a legacy of their former shared right-wing politics and partly of Taipei's generous aid programs.

"China-Panama relations have opened a new chapter", China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Tuesday at a briefing and communique signing ceremony in Beijing.

Trade between the two countries totaled US$160 million, a 7 percent annual drop, and accounted for only 0.031 percent of Taiwan's total bilateral trade, the data showed. In 2016, the Chinese state-linked Landbridge Group signed a 99-year lease for Panama's largest port, Margarita Island, which handles distribution of goods on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.

Panama is opening diplomatic relations with China, the latest blow to Taiwan as Beijing's leaders seek to isolate the self-governing island. However, other Latin American and Caribbean countries have been considering formalizing relations with China.

It added that Taiwan would reassess the cross-strait situation, and urged Beijing to "be a responsible regional power" and halt activities that would harm regional stability and the Taiwanese people.

Only 19 countries and the Vatican now recognize Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China.

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