EXPLANATION: Why did China hijack Nicaragua from Taiwan?

Most are small, largely poor nations in the Western Pacific, the Caribbean and Latin America, the only exception being the Vatican. At the same time, Taiwan maintains strong unofficial ties with the United States and dozens of other countries.

Yet the loss of official allies further restricts the ability of Taiwanese leaders to carry out state visits abroad and fuels Beijing’s narrative that Taiwan is losing the diplomatic battle and will ultimately be forced to accept. the inevitable result of political union with the People’s Republic of China.

“We believe that sooner or later these countries will establish or restore normal diplomatic relations with China. It is only a matter of time, and moreover, an unstoppable trend of the time, ”Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.





In its announcement, Nicaragua gave no reason for the latest change, but it follows a trend among its Central American neighbors such as Panama and Costa Rica who have moved to Beijing in recent years, raising concerns about Taiwan and Washington of a potential domino effect. Along with development aid, loans and other incentives, critics say Beijing is using more underhanded methods such as threats and bribes to win over Taiwan’s allies, though no evidence of that did not emerge.

The biggest incentive may simply be China’s massive and growing international economic and political clout. As Taiwan looms above its weight in trade, especially in major high-tech industries, it is increasingly diplomatically isolated and has no say in most international forums. Its respect for democratic values ​​may have only limited appeal among fragile democracies with struggling economies. China, on the other hand, is increasingly influential, which makes it well placed to serve on behalf of its friends.



Competition for the allies dates from the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. That same year, Chiang Kai-shek, defeated in the Chinese Civil War, transferred his nationalist regime, known as the Republic of China, to Taiwan. North Korea, the Soviet Union and countries in its sphere quickly recognized Beijing, while the United States and its allies supported Taiwan. But as support for China continued, Taiwan gradually lost the support of large states such as France and the UK. The hardest blow came in 1979, when the United States moved its embassy to Beijing and ended a defense treaty with Taiwan.

During the rivalry, some countries switched sides several times, depending on who made the best offer. But as China gained influence and Taiwan became a democracy accountable to parliament and the public, Beijing gained the upper hand. Taiwan’s election of Ma Ying-jeou, a friend of China, as president in 2008 resulted in a “diplomatic truce,” in which China refrained from poaching Taiwan’s allies in return for Ma’s recognition of the “one-China principle” declaring the island and the mainland. China was part of one Chinese nation. It ended with the election of Tsai Ing-wen, a popular independence supporter in 2016. Tsai refused to approve the principle and the game resumed.



China has also made efforts to exclude Taiwan from most international bodies. It started with Taiwan’s expulsion from the United Nations in 1971 and has intensified in recent years as Beijing seeks to undermine Tsai’s government. Amid the pandemic, Taiwan was stripped of its observer status at the World Health Assembly, and Beijing used its influence and veiled threats to exclude the island from even obscure groupings such as Birdlife International, a corporation. UK based ornithological non-governmental organization.

China demands that Taiwan recognize the one-China principle before it can participate. Despite this, Taiwan has remained a member of economic bodies that do not require statehood, including the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Taiwan has also asked to join the Tokyo-led Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. China, which filed its own request a week before Taipei, says it will have to join first. Taiwan has also sought to improve informal diplomatic relations, most recently with Lithuania. Beijing has responded by imposing a trade embargo on the Baltic state and threatening multinationals that do business with it.



Despite the lack of formal ties, Washington remains Taiwan’s most important ally and recently opened a new representative office in Taipei that has all the attributes of an embassy. He continued to sell arms to Taiwan and provide training under the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act that require the United States to ensure that the island can maintain a credible defense and consider threats against the island as subjects of “serious concern”.

The United States has also sought to convince Taiwan’s remaining allies of the wisdom to maintain formal diplomatic ties, meeting with Pacific island nations on the matter after the Solomon Islands and Kiribati changed relations with Beijing in 2019. The State Department spokesman Ned Price said Ortega’s decision “deprives the Nicaraguan people are a steadfast partner in their democratic and economic growth,” and that the United States encourages “all countries that value democratic institutions, transparency, rule of law and the promotion of economic prosperity for their citizens to expand their engagement with Taiwan ”.

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