US reviewing El Salvador ties after break with Taiwan

A man in front of the Taiwanese embassy in San Salvador on Tuesday holding a placard that reads “Taiwan, in the name of the Salvadoran people, I come to ask for forgiveness”. El Salvador is the fifth country in the last two years to switch allegi
A man in front of the Taiwanese embassy in San Salvador on Tuesday holding a placard that reads “Taiwan, in the name of the Salvadoran people, I come to ask for forgiveness”. El Salvador is the fifth country in the last two years to switch allegiances from Taipei to Beijing. It said attracting investments and developing the economy were key goals behind the decision, which now leaves Taiwan with just 17 diplomatic allies. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Switch in allegiance to Beijing raises fears that San Salvador could allow port for military use

WASHINGTON/HONG KONG • The United States is “deeply disappointed” by El Salvador’s decision to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China and is reviewing its relationship with San Salvador as a result, said a US State Department spokesman.

The comments on Tuesday came amid signs that the US is worried that tiny El Salvador has something more to offer China than diplomatic recognition – a port that could be used for military purposes.

The Central American country officially cut ties with Taipei and established a formal alliance with Beijing earlier on Tuesday, leaving Taiwan with just 17 diplomatic allies.

El Salvador is the fifth country in the last two years to switch allegiances from Taipei to Beijing. It said attracting investments and developing the economy were key goals behind the decision.

Said the US spokesman: “Although we recognise the sovereign right of every country to determine its diplomatic relations, we are deeply disappointed by this decision. We are reviewing our relationship with El Salvador following this decision.”

Washington sees the latest switch as not just a case of piling more pressure on self-ruled Taiwan – given that the US is obliged to help maintain its defence capabilities – but also as a move to shore up China’s security and strategic planning in the region, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

DISAPPOINTED

Although we recognise the sovereign right of every country to determine its diplomatic relations, we are deeply disappointed by this decision.

A U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN, on El Salvador’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

ONLY A MATTER OF TIME

Many of the island’s ‘allies’ have a larger trade volume with China than with Taiwan. Their establishment of diplomatic ties with the Chinese mainland is an irresistible trend. It is only a matter of time before Taiwan has zero ‘allies’. 

THE GLOBAL TIMES, China’s state-run newspaper, in an editorial yesterday.

The US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes, in a Twitter post on Tuesday, said the US was concerned about the country’s decision to break ties with Taiwan. “Without a doubt, this will impact our relationship with the government. We continue supporting the Salvadoran people,” she said.

Last month, Ms Manes spoke about China’s intentions to turn the La Union commercial port in El Salvador’s east into a “military base”, according to US-based MintPress News. “It is a strategic matter, and we all need to keep our eyes open to what is happening,” she said.

China’s state-run newspaper The Global Times, in an editorial yesterday, said China did not have to “pay a fortune to steal Taiwan’s ‘allies’”.

It said: “Many of the island’s ‘allies’ have a larger trade volume with China than with Taiwan. Their establishment of diplomatic ties with the Chinese mainland is an irresistible trend. It is only a matter of time before Taiwan has zero ‘allies’.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Africa, the Kingdom of eSwatini, yesterday said it had no intention of switching ties to China after a Chinese diplomat said he expected the kingdom to ditch Taipei soon amid a bitter diplomatic dispute.

Ahead of a summit next month between China and African leaders in Beijing, China has been upping the pressure on eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – to come over to China’s side, diplomatic sources said.

Briefing reporters in Beijing about the summit, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong said eSwatini did not have relations with China “for reasons that everyone knows”.

Mr Chen said: “We look forward to and hope that all African nations, with none left behind, can take part in positive China-Africa cooperation, and become a member of the largest family get-together.

“I believe that this is not just the pursuit of China. It is also a widespread shared expectation of African nations. I believe that this target can, in the not-too-distant future, be realised.”

However, eSwatini Foreign Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze, who was in Taiwan on an official visit, said his country was not interested in forging ties with China.

Mr Mgwagwa said: “They must not play mind games because our relationship with Taiwan is over 50 years old, so we will not dump them. We have no desire to change camps since Taiwan has been good to us.”

He added that his trip to Taiwan was a sign that the kingdom was staying put with Taiwan, and that both sides would not sacrifice the relationship for anything.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Tuesday said ties with eSwatini were “extremely firm”.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2018, with the headline 'US reviewing El Salvador ties after break with Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe