The Dominican Republic’s government has announced it is establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing and breaking ties with Taipei.
The decision is the latest setback for Taiwan in the Caribbean and Latin America. Panama dropped its long-time ties with Taipei last year and established relations with mainland China, which considers Taiwan to be Chinese territory.
The number of countries that maintain full diplomatic ties with Taiwan has now been reduced to 19, mainly small, developing countries, 10 of them in Latin America.
Beijing has been seeking to increase pressure on Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen.
Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party says it wants stable relations with mainland China, but it has not followed Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, in endorsing the “one China” principle.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu announced an immediate “termination of relations” with the Caribbean country, saying his government was “deeply angry” about the Dominican Republic’s decision.
He added Taipei would halt projects and cut all assistance to the Caribbean country, the Central News Agency reported.
Flavio Dario Espinal, legal consultant to the Dominican presidential office, said at a news conference the change in foreign policy was based on the “needs, potential and future prospects” of the Caribbean nation. “History and socioeconomics reality now force us to change course,” he said.
Espinal said that even without formal diplomatic relations with mainland China, trade between the two countries “has grown year after year to the point that today [mainland] China is the second biggest supplier of our imports”.
Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi and the Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas held a brief event to mark the establishment of ties.
After Panama cut relations with Taiwan, the former Taiwanese foreign minister David Lee visited the Dominican Republic last July as part of a campaign to shore up its ties and propose new cooperation projects.
During his stay, Lee also met with Taiwan’s ambassadors in Latin America to discuss strategies to avoid losing more allies.
The Dominican Republic has received millions of dollars in donations for development programmes from Taiwan, but the government also started commercial and political contacts with mainland China in the middle of the last decade.
Dominican Republic’ trade with mainland China has reached US$2 billion a year, making it the second largest trading partner for China among the Caribbean and Central American nations.
Espinal said the government informed Taiwan of its move earlier on Monday and thanked the Taiwanese for “the cooperation that we have shared for years”. He said that had allowed the development of very important programmes for his country.
Taiwan’s foreign minister Wu said Beijing had spent “astronomical figures” to woo the Dominican Republic away from Taiwan.
“There is no way we can commit to offering the same amount of money” to keep ties with the Caribbean ally, Wu told a news conference.
Taiwan’s government has been aware of the Dominican Republic’s intention to switch ties to Beijing since 2016 and to strengthen relations Taipei had given the Caribbean nation a number of military vehicles, Wu said. The first batch of 50 arrived in the Dominican Republic in February.
Taiwanese media reported that the military vehicles and equipment, including two UH-1H helicopters, 90 Humvees, 100 heavy duty motorcycles and spare parts cost about NT$1 billion (U$$33.7 million).
Wu said Taiwan would stop similar aid and consult with the relevant channels to see how to deal with the equipment already sent to the Dominican Republic.
Wu said Taiwan’s links with the Vatican remained firm and stable, amid reports that Beijing is in talks to try to resume diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
“As far as we have learned, their talks do not involve politics and there is no imminent risk [of a switch in ties] at the moment,” Wu said.
Beijing and the Dominican Republic’s government said in a joint statement the move to establish relations was “in keeping with the interests and desire of the two peoples”.
“The government of the Dominican Republic recognises that there is but one China in the world, that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” the statement said.
Taiwan split from mainland China after the end of a civil war in 1949 and Beijing campaigns relentlessly to isolate the island globally.
It cut off relations with Tsai’s government shortly after she took office in 2016 and has been steadily ratcheting up both diplomatic and economic pressure. Chinese analysts say Beijing is likely to continue to use its economic and political clout to lure away other Taiwanese allies until Tsai accedes to Beijing’s demands.
Additional reporting by staff reporter