El Salvador Recognizes China in Blow to TaiwanEl Salvador severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan on Tuesday in order to establish ties with China, leaving only 17 nations that officially recognize the government of the self-ruled democracy.
The move comes just days after Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, traveled in the United States, drawing protests from Beijing, which has worked hard to isolate Taipei diplomatically.
Ms. Tsai made the United States stops during a trip in which she also visited Paraguay and Belize, where she tried to shore up ties with those countries.
El Salvador’s announcement that it is recognizing Beijing has ramifications for both her Democratic Progressive Party and the United States.
Ms. Tsai is chairwoman of the party, which has historically favored formalizing Taiwan’s independence. Local elections in November will serve as an unofficial referendum on the first two years of her administration, during which Beijing has refused to speak with her.
The opposition Kuomintang party — which ruled China until 1949 and is the Communist Party’s preferred dialogue partner in Taiwan — will use the loss of the third diplomatic ally this year to attack Ms. Tsai and her party’s ability to manage cross-strait relations.
China’s Communist government seeks to absorb self-governed and democratic Taiwan, which it has never controlled, and is campaigning to erase any acknowledgment of Taiwanese sovereignty by countries or corporations.
The United States broke official ties with Taiwan in 1979 in order to establish relations with China, yet it has a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan, as evidenced by its new $250 million diplomatic compound in the capital, Taipei.
Earlier this year, China gained the recognition of the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso, which both severed ties with Taiwan’s government, officially known as the Republic of China.
Since Ms. Tsai’s inauguration two years ago, China has been using diplomatic, economic and military means to coerce Ms. Tsai into stating that Taiwan is a part of China, but she has shown no signs of capitulating.
Ms. Tsai has repeatedly called for talks with Beijing, provided the two sides meet as equals and without political preconditions.
“Anything can be negotiated, except that our freedom and our future cannot be compromised,” she said during a brief speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last week, echoing the former American president.
El Salvador’s decision to switch its recognition from Taipei to Beijing has strategic implications for Washington, as Taiwan’s once-numerous Central American and Caribbean allies had previously reduced Chinese influence in the region.
China is building ties with Central and South American nations through infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative, which is increasingly seen as loading poorer, smaller participants with debt they cannot repay.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said that El Salvador, which Ms. Tsai last visited in January 2017, had recently been asking for loans for a port project that Taiwanese engineers concluded was economically unfeasible.
Since abandoning Taiwan for China last year, Panama has sought investment from Beijing. Last month, the two sides began free trade talks, with the aim of making Panama a hub for Chinese goods in Central America.
Taiwan’s government accused Beijing Tuesday of strong-arm tactics.
“China’s rude and unreasonable actions are not those of a responsible country, and they will have a seriously negative influence on cross-strait relations,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
In a nationally televised speech, El Salvador’s president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, touted the “extraordinary opportunities” that would come with recognizing China.
China has primarily used money to persuade countries to switch recognition, just as it has used the lure of its massive market to pressure international airlines and other companies into designating Taiwan as part of China on their websites.
In a Beijing news conference, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, “I’m confident the people of El Salvador will feel the warmth and friendship of the Chinese people and derive tangible benefits from its cooperation with China.”