TAIPEI • Taiwan lashed out at China yesterday after Kiribati switched its recognition to Beijing, the second diplomatic defection in the strategically important Pacific in less than a week.
The move is another coup for Beijing just weeks before it marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
It comes four days after the Solomon Islands made the same decision, and leaves Taiwan more isolated than ever with just 15 states recognising it.
At a hastily arranged press conference, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Kiribati's decision was a "mistake", adding that the country of just over 100,000 people had "given up a sincere friend and chosen to be China's chess piece".
Taiwan has been self-ruled since the Kuomintang (KMT) forces fled the island after being defeated by the Communists in a civil war in 1949, but China views it as its territory and has vowed to seize it, by force if necessary.
Over the decades, as China's economic and military power has grown, most countries - including the United States and the majority of Western nations - have switched their recognition to Beijing.
In the last decade, only a handful - largely impoverished countries in Latin America and the Pacific - have remained loyal to Taiwan.
Beijing stepped up its campaign to diplomatically isolate Taiwan after Ms Tsai's 2016 election because she comes from the Democratic Progressive Party that refuses to recognise the "1992 Consensus" which contains the "one China, different interpretations" principle.
Yesterday, Ms Tsai said more suppression from China was expected with fewer than 100 days to go until Taiwan's January elections.
"They (China) have only one goal, that is to sway the outcome of the presidential election," she said.
Earlier in the day, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu announced that Taipei would immediately withdraw its diplomats from Kiribati, and expected the Pacific island to do the same.
He said Beijing had "lured Kiribati to change its diplomatic ties" with vows of investment and aid.
Beijing praised Kiribati for cutting ties with Taiwan, saying it "highly appreciates the decision to resume diplomatic relations with China".
Seven states have made the switch since Ms Tsai took office, while China has also ramped up military drills and squeezed the island economically.
The small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe was the first to switch, in late 2016, followed by Burkina Faso and then three Latin American states: Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
Then on Monday came the Solomon Islands, which had been deciding for months whether to make the move following the April election of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
Taiwan heads to the polls in January, with Ms Tsai seeking a second term and relations with China dominating the campaign.
She has described the vote as a "fight for freedom and democracy", setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.
Her main challenger, Mr Han Kuo-yu from the opposition China-friendly KMT, favours rebooting the cross-strait relationship.