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Panama Cuts Ties With Taiwan, Opts To Support China Instead

Panama's minister of foreign affairs, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, shakes hands with China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, during a joint press briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

Panama has announced that it is cutting ties with Taiwan and instead establishing relations with China. The shift is a major win for China as it seeks to isolate Taiwan, which now has diplomatic relations with just 20 countries.

China and Panama announced the move in a joint statement, saying it was in the "interest and wishes of both peoples." The two countries agreed to exchange ambassadors.

"The Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is only one China in the world, the Government of the People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory," the statement reads.

"Eleven of the 20 countries left that recognize Taiwan are in Latin America and the Caribbean," NPR's Carrie Kahn reported. Of the countries that still have ties, Panama has the largest economy.

The Panama Canal is a crucial waterway for trade. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing that Panama "is emerging as a hub for China to ship its goods to South America, and Beijing has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure around the Panama Canal."

China considers Taiwan a breakaway territory, and relations between Beijing and Taipei have recently grown more tense. "Beijing does not trust Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has traditionally taken a pro-independence stance," Anthony says, "so it has used investment and other incentives to lure away Taiwan's diplomatic partners."

Taiwan is slamming the shift in ties. Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee called it "most unfriendly" and said that Panama had been deceitful "until the last moment," according to the Taipei Times.

Taiwan "strongly protests and condemns Beijing for luring Panama to switch diplomatic ties, squeezing Taiwan's space in the international community and hurting Taiwanese feelings," Lee said.

Other countries in the region with ties to Taiwan have issued little response. Guatemala declined to comment, Reuters reported. An official from Honduras, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the news service that the country intended to maintain ties.

Ross Feingold, a senior adviser at D.C. International Advisory, tells The New York Times that Panama was one of Taiwan's most important allies – and now, "it is very possible that the remaining countries will switch."

These are the countries that Taiwan still has diplomatic relations with, according to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

  • East Asia and Pacific: Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau, Tuvalu.
  • Africa: Burkina Faso, Kingdom of Swaziland
  • Europe: Vatican
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Belize, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Guatemala, the Republic of Honduras, the Republic of Paraguay, Saint Lucia
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