US Vice President Mike Pence has canceled plans to meet the prime minister of the Solomon Islands to discuss development partnerships after the Pacific island cut ties with Taiwan in favor of China this week, a senior US official said on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands was the sixth nation to switch allegiance to China since 2016. Taiwan has accused China of trying to meddle in its presidential and legislative elections next year.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had asked Pence in July for a meeting, the senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The meeting was to have taken place this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, or afterward in Washington.
“But the decision by the Solomon Islands to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China has consequences. They’re hurting a historically strong relationship by doing this,” the US official said. “It’s a setback and it’s prioritizing short-term gain with China over long-term commitment with the US.”
The US has a fraught relationship with China over trade, defense and technology issues, while the administration of US President Donald Trump is also considering confronting Beijing over its detention of an estimated 1 million Muslims in Xinjiang at next week’s UN meeting.
Pence has criticized China for what he calls “debt-trap” lending practices to small nations, pushing them into debt and compromising their sovereignty.
China denies those charges.
“Countries that establish closer ties to China primarily out of the hope or expectation that such a step will stimulate economic growth and infrastructure development often find themselves worse off in the long run,” the US official said.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the US has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations when it comes to their relations with China, adding that the US also has no formal ties with Taiwan.
If the US really cares about Pacific island nations, it should do more to help them improve their economies and people’s lives, and not “brandish the stick of sanctions” at them, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) told reporters.
Taiwan has accused China of trying to lure away its allies with offers of cheap loans and other financial inducements.
In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday posted on Facebook messages from Solomon Islanders lamenting their nation’s decision to abandon Taiwan.
“The people of the Solomon Islands continue to leave us comments expressing their gratitude to the technical mission and the medical team, which have been working to help the local people there for years,” the ministry said. “Taiwan provides aid by bringing better lives to the local people directly and we don’t leave a debt trap in our wake, and this is the Taiwan model.”
China had offered US$8.5 million of development funds to the Solomon Islands ahead of its decision.
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