BEIJING (REUTERS) - China on Thursday (Dec 22) dismissed accusations from Taiwan that it engaged in "dollar diplomacy" to get Sao Tome and Principe to ditch ties with the self-ruled island, saying a petty Taiwan was besmirching China's good name.
The tiny West African state's decision this week has angered Taiwan, which says the move will not help already strained relations with China.
Commenting on the issue, Sao Tome and Principe Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada said on Thursday (Dec 22) that breaking relations with Taiwan was the correct decision given China’s importance as a strategic partner and the need to improve the lives of Sao Tomeans.
(“It) was the most correct decision for Sao Tome and Principe,” he told journalists in Sao Tome, the capital. “We have our program and we have a commitment to the people to improve their living conditions.”
He said China was “a very important strategic relationship ... the second biggest economy in the world and permanent member of the (United Nations) Security Council”.
Taiwan says China took advantage of Sao Tome's financial woes to push its "one China" principle, that states Taiwan is part of China, ineligible for diplomatic recognition, adding that Taiwan would not exchange cash for diplomatic favours.
Trovoada denied reports that he had approached Taiwan for money.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday the "one China" principle was a common consensus of the international community, and that China welcomed Sao Tome back on to the correct track of recognising this.
"How can the 'one China' principle be traded for money? The Chinese government has never traded away its principles," she told a daily news briefing. "As for what certain people say in Taiwan, I can only say don't gauge the heart of a gentleman with your own mean measure."
Despite Sao Tome's announcement, China has yet to formally say if it has now established formal diplomatic relations with the former Portuguese colony, and Hua said she had no further information on that.
She did however confirm that China had established a liaison office in Sao Tome in November 2013 for trade and cultural exchanges, and that trade between the two was worth just US$8 million (S$11.6 million) in 2015.
Sao Tome and Principe's tiny island economy is heavily dependent on cocoa exports but its position in the middle of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea has raised interest in its potential as a possible oil and gas producer.
China and Taiwan have over the years tried to poach each other's allies, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations.
China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who it thinks wants to push for the island's formal independence, though she says she wants to maintain peace with China.
China's claim to Taiwan has shot back into the spotlight since U.S. President-elect Donald Trump broke diplomatic protocol and spoke with Tsai this month, angering Beijing.
Trump has also questioned the "one China" policy which the United States has followed since establishing relations with Beijing in 1979, under which the United States acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.