Yesterday, El Salvador switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. That’s the third such change this year, and it leaves just 17 nations that recognize Taiwan – seven of them in the Pacific.
As with the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso earlier this year, the lure was Chinese investment. In a nationally televised speech, El Salvador’s president spoke of the “extraordinary opportunities” to come.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister told The New York Times that El Salvador had been asking for loans to develop a port project which Taiwanese engineers concluded was economically unfeasible. If China provides those loans instead, it would follow a pattern of its Belt and Road Initiative, where smaller countries run up debts they may not be able to pay.
Sometimes, China’s campaign to isolate Taiwan uses more coercive tactics. A report by Reuters last week noted empty hotel rooms, idle tourist boats and boarded up travel agencies in the Pacific island nation of Palau.
Late last year, China abruptly canceled tour groups to pressure Palau to sever relations with Taiwan. Before that, half of Palau’s visitors came from China. Resort and hotel owner Jeffrey Barabe told Reuters, “There is an on-going discussion of China weaponizing tourism.”
President Tommy Remengesau, Junior said that Palau’s principles and democratic ideals align more closely with Taiwan. He also said that large numbers of Chinese tourists did not add up to big revenues.
“It actually makes us more determined to seek the policy of quality over quantity” he told Reuters, by which he means fewer, but higher spending tourists from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan and the United States.