Nauru backs Taiwan after two Pacific nations switch diplomatic ties to China

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - The tiny Pacific country of Nauru will retain longstanding ties with Taiwan, its president said on Thursday (Sept 26), a welcome boost for Taipei after two regional nations switched diplomatic relations to China this month.

The small developing nations lie in strategic Pacific waters dominated by the United States and its allies since World War II, where China's moves to expand its influence have angered Washington.

"Nauru considers its relationship with Taiwan as that of family and we stand with Taiwan," newly installed President Lionel Aingimea said in an e-mail, dispelling fears of a switch after an election defeat last month for predecessor Baron Waqa.

The Solomon Islands and Kiribati have become the latest countries to switch relations to China, leaving self-ruled Taiwan with formal ties with only 15 countries.

Many of them are small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.

Seven countries have dropped Taiwan as a diplomatic ally since 2016, though the support of Nauru will stem the tide, at least for now.

"The former president of Nauru was famous for being the best friend of Taiwan, going as far as to serenade the president of Taiwan with 'You're My Best Friend'," said Mr Jonathan Pryke of Australia's Lowy Institute think-tank.

"The new president was a wild card," he said, adding, "This announcement means Taiwan can take a breath but it is clear that they need to be very diligent in the Pacific."