BEIJING – The small African nation of Gambia has established formal diplomatic ties with China after turning its back on rival Taiwan, amid speculation over possible retaliation by Beijing following the election of a new independence-leaning government in Taipei.
The signing of a Chinese-Gambian diplomatic communique in Beijing on Thursday marks the latest development in the ongoing diplomatic rivalry between Taiwan and China, which claims the self-governing island democracy is Chinese territory with no right to diplomatic recognition.
The move follows the election in January of Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan's next president despite Beijing's warnings of possible disruptions in relations. Tsai has refused to meet Beijing's demand that she endorse China's claim that the two are part of a single Chinese nation and observers are watching closely at how China will respond in the run-up to her May 20 inauguration.
Renewing diplomatic pressure after an informal seven-year truce under current China-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is considered one way Beijing might try to influence public opinion on the island of 23 million. Taiwan has just 22 diplomatic allies, mostly small nations in Africa, the Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean.
On Friday, China's Communist Party newspaper Global Times warned Tsai's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party against "provoking the mainland," but said the diplomatic truce still held.
Beijing's relations with Gambia "shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that the mainland will restart a 'diplomatic war' with Taiwan," the paper said. "It is unnecessary for the mainland to flex its muscles toward Taiwan in this way. Otherwise, the Taiwanese will feel oppressed."
Gambia severed relations with Taiwan in November 2013 in hopes of forging ties with China. It has pledged "not to establish any official relations or engage in any official contacts with Taiwan," according to the text of the communique posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website.
China frequently woos Taiwan's allies with extensive promises of development aid, although Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said only that China would discuss "friendly and reciprocal cooperation" following the resumption of ties.
With just 2 million people and little in the way of natural resources, Gambia is one of Africa's smallest and poorest nations.
On a visit to diplomatic ally Belize, Taiwanese President Ma expressed "strong dissatisfaction" over the Chinese-Gambian move and said Taiwan's diplomatic installations around the world were on guard over attempts to downgrade relations.