Last week, we reported that Solomon Islands had abandoned a 36-year diplomatic relationship with Taiwan to switch allegiance to Beijing. Now, Taiwan’s dwindling international space has been squeezed even tighter, as Kiribati has also recognized Beijing.
In a statement, the office of President Taneti Maamau said the decision followed “a long internal review…of our international relations in accordance with the best national interest for our country and our people.”
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told a different story: He said Kiribati recently sought funds to buy planes for its national airline. When Taiwan suggested loans, Wu said Kiribati demanded a donation. He added that the Chinese government has already promised to provide full funds for several airplanes and commercial ferries.
According to reports, the offer to Solomon Islands, was 500 million dollars, if Honiara agreed to recognize Beijing before October first, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Opposition figures in both countries questioned the wisdom of the moves. In Solomon Islands, Peter Kenilorea, the son of the country’s founding prime minister, told RNZ Pacific: “The fact that we are already marching to their drumbeat is an ominous sign.” In Kiribati, former prime minister Sir Ieremia Tabai said, “We do not understand the decision” and told RNZ Pacific that if the opposition wins next years elections, Kiribati would switch back to Taiwan.
The two defections leave Taiwan with 15 diplomatic allies around the world. Three of its remaining Pacific Allies have reaffirmed relations - that’s Palau, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. The new government in Nauru has not issued a comment.