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Diplomacy

Xi Jinping to meet Pacific island leaders as Beijing seeks to further isolate Taiwan

  • Region has become a front line in the diplomatic war between Beijing and Taipei
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 3:36pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 3:42pm

Chinese President Xi Jinping will sit down with seven Pacific island allies on Friday, doling out attention and perhaps some largesse in the hope of convincing more countries to drop recognition of Taiwan.

While nations have vied for resource contracts and influence along vital Pacific shipping routes, the region has also become a front line in the diplomatic war between Beijing and Taipei, which is struggling to retain support amid mainland China’s dramatic economic rise.

“Xi is not going to show up empty-handed,” when he meets leaders from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu in Port Moresby on Friday, said Jonathan Pryke from the Australian think tank Lowy Institute.

“Almost a full third of Taiwan’s remaining support base is in the Pacific islands region. Chequebook diplomacy is alive and well in this part of the world.”

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For small countries, it has become more costly to forego relations with mainland China, the world’s second-largest economy – a fact Beijing has been keen to exploit.

“[Mainland] China has been much more aggressive in picking off Taiwan’s support base,” Pryke said.

Some Latin American countries have switched sides in recent years.

El Salvador’s leader recently received a hero’s welcome in Beijing – complete with red carpets and military band – after his country decided to switch recognition.

Taiwan’s dwindling support base means it has less leverage to join multilateral organisations and less support inside the ones it has already joined when Beijing decides to turn the screw.

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Only 17 countries remain in Taiwan’s diplomatic circle as the self-ruling democratic island struggles to fend off Beijing’s growing influence around the globe.

Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are among those that recognise Taiwan.

The mainland and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing sees the island as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold.