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Taiwan loses another diplomatic partner as Nicaragua recognizes China

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during a meeting with a Baltic states delegation in Taipei on Nov. 29. (Taiwan Presidential Office/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Nicaragua on Thursday severed ties with Taiwan and established relations with Beijing, further shrinking the island’s dwindling ranks of diplomatic partners as China pressures countries to break off contact with Taipei.

Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it would no longer have any official contact with Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a province of China. Describing Taiwan as an “inalienable part of Chinese territory,” the ministry said it “recognizes that there is only one China in the world.”

In a statement on Twitter on Friday in Asia, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had “disregarded” a “long-standing friendship.” “It’s with great regret we end diplomatic ties with Nicaragua,” it said, adding that “Taiwan remains unbowed [and] will continue as a force for good in the world.”

The break in ties, which leaves 14 countries that recognize Taiwan, comes amid tensions between China and the United States and aggressive Chinese actions toward Taiwan. The democratic island has close unofficial links with Washington despite U.S. diplomatic ties with Beijing under the one-China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s claim to Taiwan without formally recognizing it.

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The dispute over Taiwan’s status dates back to the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island and established an administration there, eventually transitioning to democracy decades later. China’s ruling Communist Party has asserted sovereignty over Taiwan ever since, but it has never ruled the island, and there is limited support in Taiwan for a union with Beijing.

Nicaragua’s announcement came after months of worsening relations with the United States, which imposed sanctions on a national security adviser of Ortega and called the president’s win last month of a fourth term a “pantomime election.”

Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said “there is only one China in the world” in a televised announcement on Dec. 10. (Video: AP)

“Nicaragua sees China as a way out,” said Teng Chung-Chian, a professor at National Chengchi University’s Department of Diplomacy. “The U.S. sanctions were the fuse, coupled with Taiwan’s close relationship with the United States.”

The State Department condemned the decision, saying Ortega’s actions “cannot reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people.” “We do know, however, that this deprives Nicaragua’s people of a steadfast partner in its democratic and economic growth,” it said in a statement.

For decades, China and Taiwan have competed for allies by offering incentives such as aid and investment in exchange for diplomatic recognition and support in international bodies. While steadily picking off Taipei’s allies, China has threatened countries, companies and organizations that treat or refer to Taiwan as a country.

In a statement on its website Friday in Asia, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Nicaragua had made the “right choice.” “Another brilliant victory,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted on the microblog Weibo. Chinese and Nicaraguan officials would meet in the Chinese city of Tianjin on Friday, state media reported.

China has escalated its campaign to isolate Taiwan since the 2016 election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who opposes Chinese pressure for unification.

Yet under Tsai, Taiwan has expanded unofficial diplomatic engagement, most recently with an unprecedented visit by a European Union delegation and the opening of a de facto embassy in Lithuania, which has unnerved Beijing. Taiwan was invited to President Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” this week, a move that Beijing condemned.

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Tsai wrote on Twitter on Friday that “no amount of external pressure can shake our commitment to freedom, human rights, the rule of law [and] to partnering with the international democratic community as a force for good.”

Nicaragua, which established diplomatic contact with the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, as early as the 1930s, broke off ties once before in 1985 to recognize Beijing instead. Diplomatic relations with Taiwan were restored in 1990.

But in recent years, a growing number of countries have abandoned Taiwan, including the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which switched sides in 2019, as well as El Salvador, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso.

Rivalry between China and Taiwan has played out with increasing frequency outside of East Asia, most recently contributing to unrest in the Solomon Islands.

Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Chinese state media on Friday framed the loss of another ally as a failure for Tsai’s government, which faces a referendum on a range of measures it has pushed this month. The KMT called on Taiwan’s foreign minister to resign.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Chinese state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times, wrote on Twitter that Nicaragua’s decision was payback for the Tsai government’s “arrogance.” “Taiwan has 14 ‘diplomatic allies’ left. Sooner or later, it will drop to zero,” he said.

Mary Beth Sheridan, Pei-Lin Wu and Lyric Li contributed to this report.

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