Taiwan’s loss of another diplomatic ally to China is the latest strike in a multi-pronged effort to isolate the nation, undermine its claims to sovereignty and render it invisible on the global stage.
As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) refuses to bend to Beijing’s demand that she recognize its “one China” principle, the Chinese government has stepped up its campaign to shrink the nation’s status.
Major international businesses, including airlines and hotels, have caved to pressure to list Taiwan as part of China on their Web sites. Taiwan has also been shut out of numerous high-profile global forums at Beijing’s request, and China has stepped up military drills around the nation.
Salvadoran President Sanchez Ceren on Tuesday said its decision to switch ties from Taipei to Beijing was part of the “inevitable trends of our day,” while Taiwan accused China of using “yuan diplomacy” to lure away its supporters.
Taiwan now has only 17 diplomatic allies, the vast majority of them small economies in the Pacific, Caribbean and Central America.
Five have jumped ship since Tsai took power in 2016, with three this year alone.
The allies might not punch much weight internationally, but chipping away at them has deep significance for Taiwan as it strives to hold on to any formal recognition of its legitimacy.
“If the ROC [Republic of China] is completely unrecognized, I believe Beijing’s calculation is that it will be easier to delegitimize the government in Taipei and prime demoralized Taiwanese and international society for unification,” said Jonathan Sullivan, director of China programs at the University of Nottingham in England.
Wooing El Salvador was also a warning shot to the US, said Fan Shih-ping (范世平), a political analyst at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.
The US is Taiwan’s most important informal ally and major arms supplier, despite having switched official diplomatic ties to Beijing in 1979.
Beijing last week protested when Tsai spoke publicly in Los Angeles — the first Taiwanese president to do so for 15 years — and has also complained about friendly overtures from the administration of US President Donald Trump, including a fresh commitment to support Taiwan militarily.
“It’s an indirect slap in Trump’s face as El Salvador is in the US’ backyard,” Fan said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is confident he can use both hard and soft power to pave the way for unification, National Chengchi University College of International Affairs vice dean Huang Kwei-bo (黃奎博) said.
“They now ignore stakeholders in Taiwan and unilaterally decide to do whatever they want,” Huang said. “This is quite worrying, as it means Beijing doesn’t have any willingness to communicate anymore.”
However, Sullivan said that if Taiwan loses all recognition from its allies, Beijing might unwittingly fuel calls from independence supporters to push for the nation to redefine itself as the Republic of Taiwan.
He also believes Taiwan’s unofficial ties ultimately outweigh its official ones.
“Taiwan’s informal relationships as a major trading economy with the US, Japan, the EU and pretty much every other country in the world are much more important to Taiwan’s vitality,” Sullivan said.
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