TAIPEI (REUTERS) - China cannot dictate who Somaliland can have relations with as it was a sovereign nation and "born free", the foreign minister of the breakaway Somali region said on Friday (Feb 11) during a trip to Taiwan which has been condemned by Beijing.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence. The region has been mostly peaceful while Somalia has grappled with three decades of civil war.
Somaliland and Taiwan set up representative offices in each other's capitals in 2020, angering Beijing and Mogadishu.
Strategically situated on the Horn of Africa, Somaliland borders Djibouti, where China maintains its first ever overseas military base.
China's Foreign Ministry said this week Taiwan was "fanning the flames to undermine the independence and unification of other countries, harming others without benefiting themselves" by hosting a senior ministerial delegation from Somaliland.
Speaking to reporters, Somaliland Foreign Minister Essa Kayd said China cannot dictate to his country.
"We were born free and we will stay free. We will run our business the way we want. China cannot dictate, no other country can dictate."
Ms Kayd added that they were open to dealing with anyone who respected them as a sovereign country and wanted to do business without any strings or conditions.
"I think that's as clear as I can go on China."
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, to be reunified, by force if necessary. Taiwan has been all but driven out of Africa diplomatically by China in recent years, with only tiny Eswatini now maintaining full relations with the island.
China has ramped up pressure on countries not to engage with Taiwan as it seeks to assert its sovereignty claims, and both frequently trade barbs about using "dollar diplomacy" with loans and cash gifts in exchange for international recognition.
Somaliland Finance Minister Saad Ali Shire said his country had made no requests so far to borrow from Taiwan.
"There has been a flow of funds from Taiwan to Somaliland in the form of aid and in the form of investment, which we welcome."