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Nauru cuts diplomatic ties to Taiwan, switches to China

Taiwan has lost one of its few remaining diplomatic allies – the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru – to China, just days after it elected a new president.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties, a position Taiwan strongly disputes.

Taiwan security officials told Reuters before Saturday’s election that China was likely to continue to whittle away at the handful of countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taipei.

Lai Ching-te, repeatedly criticised by China before the poll as a dangerous separatist, won the election for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and will take office on 20 May.

The government of Nauru said that “in the best interests” of the country and its people it was seeking full resumption of diplomatic relations with China.

Nauru has recognised China before, between 2002 and 2005.

“This means that the Republic of Nauru will no longer recognise the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a separate country but rather as an inalienable part of China’s territory, and will sever ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan as of this day and no longer develop any official relations or official exchanges with Taiwan,” it said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang told a hastily arranged news conference that news of the break had come suddenly.

Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang

Beijing specifically chose the sensitive timing after the election to target Nauru, Mr Tien said, calling the move “ambush-like” and equivalent to a “a blatant attack on democracy” just as many countries were offering congratulations to Taiwan on the smooth voting process.

“Taiwan did not bow to the pressure. We elected what we want to elect. That’s unbearable for them,” he added.

China had offered Nauru, with a population of 12,500, money far in excess of what Taiwan provides its allies, Tien said.

China’s foreign ministry said it appreciated and welcomed Nauru’s decision.

The move leaves Taiwan with only 12 diplomatic allies, including the Vatican, Guatemala and Paraguay, plus Palau, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu is in Guatemala attending the inauguration of its new president.

Nauru is a small and remote Pacific Island nation that uses Australian currency and generates revenue from fishing licences and hosting a regional processing centre for refugees for the Australian government.

An Australian bank providing the country’s only banking service announced in December its plan to close its Nauruan operation.

Australia provides policing support and is a major aid donor, contributing A$46 million (US$31 million) in development assistance in 2023.

The refugee processing centre was forecast to generate A$160 million in 2024, although Australia plans to wind it down over time.

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