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Solomon Islands Weighs Cutting Ties to Taiwan

EntertainmentSolomon Islands Weighs Cutting Ties to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The Solomon Islands is said to be considering breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to establish formal ties with China, a move that comes as American officials accuse Beijing of destabilizing the Pacific as its influence in the region grows.

Such a decision, if formally approved, would leave only 16 countries that officially recognize Taiwan’s government. The Communist government in China, which claims Taiwan as its territory despite never having ruled it, says the self-governing island has no right to official diplomatic ties.

On Wednesday, a Solomon Islands lawmaker, Peter Shanel Agovaka, informed a parliamentary committee of the plan to end the country’s relations with Taiwan. “It’s time that we should move on with our life,” Mr. Agovaka said, according to a recording of the meeting that was published by Reuters on Thursday.

The South Pacific has been a bulwark for Taiwan, with six countries in the region maintaining diplomatic relations with Taipei. The economic pull of Beijing, however, is strong. China is by far the largest buyer of Solomon Islands exports, and it has offered the island nation millions of dollars to help it move away from Taiwan.

The United States, which is locked in a trade war with China, has pushed back against Beijing’s sweeping ambitions in increasingly harsh tones in recent weeks. Last month, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said China was destabilizing the Indo-Pacific region through “predatory economics” and military expansionism.

The potential diplomatic switch by the Solomon Islands comes at a sensitive moment in the tricky relationship among Beijing, Taipei and Washington. While Taiwan does what it can to retain official ties with the few small countries that still recognize its government, its unofficial allies — especially the United States — are vastly more important.

The United States has been the guarantor of Taiwan’s security for the past seven decades, and it is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself. In recent months, the Trump administration has approved two possible large arms sales: a $2 billion package that includes Abrams M1A2 tanks, and an $8 billion package that includes up to 66 F-16V fighter jets.

The Chinese government, already at odds with the United States over the deepening trade war, protested both moves.

Beijing’s moves to limit Taiwan’s international presence and intimidate it with military exercises have prompted the Trump administration to show much more public support for Taipei than the Obama or Bush administrations did. Pro-Taiwan legislation, increasingly regular arms sales, and statements and visits by Democratic and Republican officials have highlighted American support for Taiwan’s sovereignty.

The Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen, has worked since taking office in 2016 to improve relations with Washington. Ms. Tsai, who is facing re-election in January, visited New York in July en route to meet with Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.

Like other countries that have formal diplomatic ties with China, the United States does not officially recognize Taiwan’s government. But it has an informal presence in Taipei: a heavily fortified $250 million compound that opened in 2018.

Ms. Tsai’s opponent in the coming election, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang, is pushing for a closer relationship with China. Earlier this year, he met with the officials in charge of administering the “one country, two systems” arrangement used in Hong Kong since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

Mr. Han’s popularity has been steadily fading during the weeks of protests against Hong Kong’s government, which many Hong Kongers dismiss as a puppet of the central government in Beijing.

Once formalized, the diplomatic break with the Solomon Islands could be used by Mr. Han to attack Ms. Tsai’s ability to maintain official diplomatic allies. But the impact is likely to be minimal given her success in improving unofficial ties with larger partners like Japan, the European Union, Australia and the United States.

“The Kuomintang will try to use the loss of another diplomatic partner as evidence that Tsai’s policies are harmful to Taiwan’s interests,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s hard to say whether this will resonate with voters, however, especially with so much sympathy in Taiwan toward the Hong Kong protesters.”

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