BEIJING – China reasserted its hard line on Taiwan on Wednesday following Panama's switching of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
Spokesman for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office Ma Xiaoguang told reporters that there could be no deviation from Beijing's insistence that Taiwan acknowledge it is part of China.
"Only by recognizing ... that the two sides belong to one China can the relations of the two sides return to the correct direction of peaceful development," Ma told reporters at a biweekly news briefing.
The move this week by Panama, which was among the largest economies to have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan, was the clearest sign yet of China's drive to increase pressure on Taiwan's independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen.
Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party says it wants stable relations with Beijing, but hasn't followed Tsai's predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, in endorsing the "one China" principle.
Under Ma's eight years as president, Taipei and Beijing reached a number of agreements and expanded their exchanges, culminating in a 2015 summit between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore.
However, Beijing cut ties with Tsai's government shortly after she took office a year ago and has been steadily ratcheting up both diplomatic and economic pressure.
The sides split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing insists only it has the right to represent China in international society.
Taiwan now has just 20 formal diplomatic partners, 11 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chinese analysts say Beijing will likely continue to use its economic and political clout to lure away other Taiwanese allies until Tsai accedes to China's demands.
The island is also excluded from the United Nations and other multinational bodies that require official governmental recognition at China's insistence.
Taiwan strongly protested Panama's decision, portraying it as another Chinese step to alter the status quo between the sides and chip away at Taiwan's sovereignty and international breathing space.
Tsai tweeted late Tuesday that Taiwan would close its diplomatic mission in Panama "in (a) dignified manner."
"Coercion and threats will not bring the two sides closer. Instead, they will drive our two peoples apart," Tsai said in a statement posted on her official website. "On behalf of the 23 million people of Taiwan, I declare that we will never surrender to such intimidation."