BEIJING – Panama's switching of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China on Tuesday deprives Taipei of one of its most important and influential allies.
Taiwan now is left with just 20 countries that extend it diplomatic recognition, providing symbolic support for its claim to sovereignty as well as a conduit into international society that China has increasingly sought to choke off. Below is a look at recent developments in Taiwan's diplomatic relations:
China lessened the diplomatic pressure on Taiwan during the 2008-2016 term of China-friendly President Ma Ying-Jeou, but its overall strategy of narrowing the island's global breathing space has continued unabated. In 2007, Costa Rica became the first of Taiwan's Central American partners to switch allegiances. That was followed by the southern African nation of Malawi in 2008, with Gambia in West Africa following suit in 2013, although formal relations with Beijing weren't formed until 2016. Also in 2016, tiny African state Sao Tome and Principe switched ties, marking a warning shot across the bow of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's ship of state.
The steady attrition has left Taiwan with just two allies in Africa: Burkina Faso in the west and the Kingdom of Swaziland in the south. Taiwan's relations with its remaining Central and South American allies — Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay — are partly a legacy of their former shared right-wing politics and partly of Taipei's generous aid programs. In the Caribbean, Taiwan's allies are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Taiwan is also allies with a number of fellow Pacific island nations and American allies, namely Kiribati, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
SOLE EUROPEAN ALLY
Taiwan's only diplomatic partner in Europe is the Holy See, a relationship that endures against a steady stream of conjecture about the Vatican's plans to switch relations to Beijing. Successive popes have reached out to China hoping to find an accommodation over management of the Catholic Church in the country, but agreement has proven elusive: Beijing insists on the right to appoint bishops, as well as to tightly manage the church's activities and its role in public life. Although few Taiwanese are Catholics, the church has a lengthy history on the island, and Taiwan's democracy and open society allow it a far greater degree of activity than found in China.