TAIPEI • President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan welcomed the leader of the Caribbean nation of Haiti with a military salute yesterday, on his first official trip to Taipei, as China ramps up the pressure to lure away Taiwan's friends.
Taiwan has lost two diplomatic allies in the past month, most recently the West African state of Burkina Faso which re-established ties with Beijing last Saturday.
China claims Taiwan as its own and considers the democratic island to be a wayward province.
Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial issue and a potential military flashpoint.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise, leading a 30-member team, was visiting amid concern that his country could be among the next to jump ship and establish ties with China.
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, severed relations with Taiwan by formally recognising China earlier this month.
"We appreciate Haiti's long-term support of Taiwan and our international participation in many areas," Ms Tsai said at a ceremony outside the presidential office.
Taiwan and Haiti have been allies since 1956.
China has launched a campaign over the last two years to lure away Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies, as it seeks to pressure Ms Tsai, who it fears wants to push for the island's formal independence.
Ms Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo but will not be bullied by China and will defend Taiwan and its democracy.
Mr Moise said his country was grateful for Taiwan's willingness to help with its development, and that it was looking forward to relations expanding into a new phase.
Haiti is looking to promote employment and economic growth, with a focus on strengthening private investment, agriculture modernisation, and infrastructure, he said.
Taiwan has official relations with just 18 countries, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific such as Belize and Nauru.
Taiwan has accused China of enticing countries into its orbit with generous aid offers.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said those accusations are "totally baseless and pure slander".