Taiwan loses second ally in a month as Burkina Faso cuts ties

Flags of Taiwan and Burkina Faso (far right) are seen inside the Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 24, 2018.
Flags of Taiwan and Burkina Faso (far right) are seen inside the Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 24, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

OUAGADOUGOU/TAIPEI (REUTERS, AFP) - Taiwan lost its second diplomatic ally in less than a month on Thursday (May 24) after Burkina Faso said it had cut ties with the self-ruled island, following intense Chinese pressure on African countries to break with what it regards as a wayward province.

Taiwan now has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa – the tiny kingdom of Swaziland – and formal relations with just 18 countries, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru. 

The Burkina foreign ministry’s statement made no direct mention of China, but said “the evolution of the world and the socio-economic challenges of our country and region push us to reconsider our position”. 

Foreign minister Alpha Barry did not mention whether Burkina Faso would switch diplomatic ties to China.

Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference in Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said he had offered his resignation to President Tsai Ing-wen.  He expressed regret at Burkina’s decision, and added that Taiwan cannot compete with China’s financial resources. 

Taiwan has accused China of luring its friends away with offers of generous aid packages. China denies this, and says Taiwan is a part of China with no right to formal diplomatic ties with any other country. 

There was no immediate comment from China’s foreign ministry. China’s official Xinhua news agency ran a brief dispatch reporting the news from Burkina Faso, but without giving Beijing’s reaction. 

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue.  China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai’s election as president in 2016, as Beijing fears she wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. She says she wants to maintain the status quo. 

China is Africa’s largest trade partner, with massive investments in mining, construction and banking, though it has been less active to date in Burkina.  China is hosting a summit of African leaders in September in Beijing, where it will likely offer new pledges of aid and preferential loans. 

In March, China said it was in the best interests of Taiwan’s allies to recognise an “irresistible trend” and ditch Taipei in favour of “one China” ruled by Beijing. 

Burkina is the fourth country to cut ties with Taiwan since Tsai came to office, following the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe and Panama. 

The Vatican is possibly next, as the Holy See and China edge closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops there. 

Taiwan says the Republic of China, its official name, is a sovereign country with the right to develop relations with other countries.  Some countries have switched back and forth between Beijing and Taipei several times. 

This is the second time Burkina Faso has cut ties with Taiwan. It last did so in 1973, before resuming relations with Taipei in 1994.

A landlocked country of 18 million people on the southern rim of the Sahara, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest nations of the world. It ranked 185th out of 188 states in the UN's Human Development Index for 2016.