China is filling a ‘strategic vacuum’ in the Pacific left by the US and its allies, and that’s bad news for Taiwan

US Navy China sailors

Taiwan, which China considers to be a renegade territory, lost two of its few remaining allies in late September.
China has sought to win over Taiwan’s allies, but those countries have their own reasons to embrace Beijing.
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On December 1, 2016, 22 countries had full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, an island nation seen as a breakaway province by its larger neighbor, China.

On December 2 that year, President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had what was thought to be the first phone call between a Taiwanese leader and a US president or president-elect since the US severed ties with Taiwan and recognized China in 1979.

For China, after that the gloves came off.

Read more: Taiwan just lost its biggest ally in the Pacific to China, and the US may retaliate

On December 21, 2016, São Tome and Principe, an island country in West Africa, recognized China, as did Panama in 2017. El Salvador and the Dominican Republic followed in 2018. And in a four-day period in September this year, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, both Pacific Island countries, left Taiwan behind.

Now just 15 countries, five of them small Pacific islands, have full diplomatic relations with Taipei, compared to 180 that recognize Beijing.

In an email interview, Dr. Anna Powles, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at New Zealand’s Massey University and an expert on security issues in the Pacific, explained why countries are embracing Beijing, how the US and others have responded, and why some in the region aren’t won over by those responses.

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Christopher Woody: For the countries in the Pacific that have switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, what factors have influenced their decisions to do so?

Dr. Anna Powles: The factors that drove the Solomon Islands and Kiribati to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in September have less to do with ideology and more to do with development imperatives and domestic politics.

China is seen as having more to offer, and certainly from an infrastructure development perspective, that is true.

It is important to keep in mind too that this was very much a political decision in both countries, and, in the case of the Solomon Islands, the process — which was meant to have included public consultations — was circumvented.

Woody: What efforts have the US, its partners in the region, and other Western countries made to counter China’s influence among Pacific Island countries, and how have those island countries responded to those efforts?

Powles: Since 2018 the US has sought to increase its diplomatic, defense, and security engagement in the Pacific; as has Australia with its own “Pacific Step Up,” New Zealand’s “Pacific Reset,” and the United Kingdom’s “Pacific Uplift,”

This has included big-ticket infrastructure initiatives such as the Papua New Guinea …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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