TAIPEI, Taiwan – The West African nation of Gambia has cut off relations with Taiwan, the latest country to spurn the island for its mainland rival China.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Chen confirmed the move but declined to give a reason behind the move by Banjul, which seems almost certain to lead to the establishment of formal ties between Gambia and China.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing rejects Taiwan's claims of sovereignty, including its right to maintain formal relations with other countries, amid its claim that the self-governing island of 23 million people is part of its territory.
China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on the development.
With the loss of Gambia, Taiwan is now recognized by 22 countries, mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the south Pacific. Swaziland, Sao Tome and Principe and Burkina Faso are its only remaining diplomatic allies in Africa.
China is recognized by more than 200 countries.
Earlier this week the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe said that China would open a trade office there, in what Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lin said was a possible prelude to Taiwan losing recognition by that African country as well.
The African moves signal a diplomatic setback for Taiwan, which says that President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of using enhanced trade relations to lower tensions across the 150-kilometer- (100-mile-) wide Taiwan Strait has paved the way for the establishment of an effective truce between Beijing and Taipei over efforts to win recognition by wavering countries.
During Ma's first four-year term at least two Latin American countries cancelled plans to transfer recognition from Taipei to Beijing after what appeared to be Chinese intervention.
While China continues to offer support for Ma's China-friendly policies, it has recently expressed impatience with the Taiwan legislature's refusal to ratify a wide-ranging trade agreement that would allow Beijing and Taipei to set up branches of service industries in each other's territory.
It has pressed Taiwan to hold talks with Beijing on political issues, including confidence-building measures between the two sides' militaries.
Ma has so far been reluctant to extend his economic and trade initiatives into the political sphere, largely because of widespread opposition to such a move by the Taiwanese public.