Nicaragua breaks off diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching recognition to Beijing

Commentators say the move is deliberately timed to coincide with US President Joe Biden's democracy summit.
By Sham Yin Hang and Hwang Chun-mei
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Nicaragua breaks off diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching recognition to Beijing A policeman stands guard at Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei after Nicaragua switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China, Dec. 10, 2021.

The government of Taiwan hit out at Beijing on Friday after former diplomatic partner Nicaragua announced it would sever ties in favor of Beijing.

While President Tsai Ing-wen said Nicaragua's decision was made against a "complex" geopolitical background, the country's foreign ministry "strongly condemned" Beijing's role in the decision, which it saw as part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s ongoing efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.

"The government strongly condemns the Chinese government for once again forcing friendly nations to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and suppressing our diplomacy," foreign affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters on Friday.

The foreign ministry also denied providing 100 million U.S. dollars in loans to Nicaragua ahead of its general election.

Earlier, Tsai said the decision involved "complex international politics."

"The more successful Taiwan's democracy and the more it gains international support, the more the authoritarians will step up the pressure," she said.

Nicaragua announced its decision early on Friday, saying it would cease to have any official relationship with Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in Taipei.

Beijing has been stepping up its campaign to isolate Taiwan diplomatically since Tsai was elected in 2016. Taiwan now has formal relations with only 14 countries, including Belize, Nauru and the Vatican, after Kiribati and the Solomon Islands broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei last year.

Beijing insists that its diplomatic partners accept its claim on Taiwan, which it calls the "one China" policy, effectively forcing them to cut ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Nicaragua's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared its severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan in a statement issued in the early hours of Friday morning, saying it would "cease to have any contact or official relationship" with Taipei.

This isn't the first time Taiwan has lost Nicaragua.

During President José Daniel Ortega Saavedra's first term in office in 1985, the country ended a 55-year relationship, switching ties to China in a move that was later reversed by his successor Violeta Barrios Torres de Chamorro in the 1990s.

Call to expand engagement

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called on allies to "expand" their engagement with the island, saying Nicaragua had lost a "steadfast partner."

"Taiwan’s relationships with diplomatic partners in the Western Hemisphere provide significant economic and security benefits to the citizens of those countries," Price said in a statement. "We encourage all countries that value democratic institutions, transparency, the rule of law, and promoting economic prosperity for their citizens to expand engagement with Taiwan."

He said the Nov. 7 "sham election" in Nicaragua didn't reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people, "who continue to struggle for democracy and the ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

International relations expert Yao-Yuan Yeh of the University of St. Thomas, Houston, said the U.S. is now actively supporting Taiwan's growing international participation, but has stopped short of moving towards official recognition of the island.

"The U.S. still observes the one-China policy, so hasn't yet recognized Taiwan's sovereignty," Yeh told RFA. "However, it is taking steps to boost Taiwan's visibility on the world stage, and its participation in the democracy summit [run by U.S. President Joe Biden] was a part of that."

Former Taiwanese diplomat Liu Shih-chieh said the announcement was deliberately timed by Beijing to undermine the democracy summit.

"This is a CCP wolf-warrior diplomacy counterattack against pro-democracy nations worldwide," Liu said. "The strength of the U.S. response is worth observing."

He said Price's strongly worded statement could be a bid to head off a similar move by Honduras. "I think the State Department's statement is aimed at Honduras," Liu said. "I don't think there will be a domino effect."

The Republic of China regime led by then dictator Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists, and the island has operated as a self-governing state bearing the Republic of China name ever since.

It has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, yet Beijing has repeatedly called for "unification" and threatened to annex the island, whose 23 million residents regard themselves as Taiwanese, and, having democratized in the 1990s, have no wish to live under China's authoritarian rule.

The U.S., which is obliged by its own laws to sell arms to Taiwan, had for decades appeared keen not to offend Beijing on the international stage.

But the Biden administration has continued to deepen the diplomatic engagement with Taipei that was begun under President Trump, with official contacts now allowed and increasingly supportive statements coming out of Washington.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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