US V-P Pence rebuffs Solomon Islands PM after nation cuts ties with Taiwan

US Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to meet Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Vice-President Mike Pence has declined to meet Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare after the nation cut ties with Taiwan in favour of China this week, a senior US administration official said on Tuesday (Sept 17).

Sogavare had asked Pence to meet during a phone conversation in July to discuss development partnerships, the official told Reuters, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The meeting was to have taken place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

"But the decision by the Solomon Islands to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China has consequences. They're hurting a historically strong relationship by doing this," the official said.

"It's a setback, and it's prioritising short-term gain with China over long-term commitment with the US," the official said.

The United States upholds what is known as the "one-China"policy, officially recognising Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.

Pence and other officials in President Donald Trump's administration have criticized China for what they call"debt-trap" lending practices to small countries, pushing them into debt. China denies those charges.

"Countries that establish closer ties to China primarily out of the hope or expectation that such a step will stimulate economic growth and infrastructure development often find themselves worse off in the long run," the US official told Reuters.

After the Solomon Islands decision, Taiwan has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less-developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.

After his July phone call with Pence, Sogavare sent him a letter, saying he was "favourably disposed" to ask his Cabinet to defer a decision on its Taiwan ties until later in the year.

Sogavare emphasised that he needed help from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan to develop infrastructure - a critical domestic issue for his government - according to a copy of the letter reviewed by Reuters.

Beijing said on Tuesday that the Solomon Islands would have unprecedented development opportunities after cutting ties with Taiwan.

The Solomons, a former British protectorate that is home to about 600,000 people, had been looking into a possible switch in ties since a general election in April.

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