Panama switches diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen listens with her counterpart Panama’s Juan Carlos Varela. REUTERS  Carlos Jasso  File

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen listens with her counterpart Panama’s Juan Carlos Varela. REUTERS Carlos Jasso File

Earlier on Tuesday, Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela said the Central American country was breaking diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establishing official relations with China.

Panama's government said in a statement that it recognised there was only one China - with Taiwan belonging to the Asian giant - and that it was severing ties with Taipei.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama's vice president and foreign minister, attend a press conference after their meeting in Beijing, capital of China, June 13, 2017.

Wang said he was sure relations between the countries would have a "bright future".

In a joint statement, the two countries said they were establishing ambassador-level relations.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that it insists should be reunited with the mainland.

"Taiwan has a great deal to offer the worldwide community ranging from top quality medical services to strong IT talent, and active global NGOs that provide disaster relief to countries in need", she said, adding that the United States and other countries should find "creative ways" to engage with Taiwan.

Taiwan had as many as 30 diplomatic allies in the mid-1990s, and its remaining formal ties are with mostly smaller and poorer nations in Latin America and the Pacific.

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Among many others, China is the world's largest trader and second-largest economy, and Panama is an important regional logistics hub.

Panama gave no specific reason for the split but China has been investing in the country, which is home to Panama canal - a crucial shipping route.

Panama is the latest country to cut ties with Taiwan and it is unlikely to be the last, said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor of politics at the UNSW Canberra college in Australia.

Panama's termination of bilateral relations with Taiwan means there are only 20 countries that recognise Taiwan.

The government said it recognized there was "only one China" and that it considers Taiwan part of it.

Liao I-ming (廖義銘), a professor at National University of Kaohsiung, said Taiwan has ties linked to "checkbook diplomacy" with most of its allies except for the Vatican.

A Chinese vessel was the first to pass through the Panama Canal after a major expansion project was completed last June. China is the second-biggest client of the Panama Canal and the leading provider of merchandise to a free-commerce zone in the Caribbean city of Colon.

"By taking away Panama, it once again teaches Tsai's government the lesson that if she doesn't accept the "one China" principle ... there will be consequences".

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