Monday, September 23, 2019

Taiwan Loses "Recognition" from Two Pacific Allies (Map)

You can always find the latest version of this map, and a list of all related articles, on our Which Countries "Recognize" Taiwan? page.

Map of who recognizes Taiwan (what countries recognize the Republic of China) in September 2019. Marks countries that have cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan (withdrawn recognition) in the last ten years: Kiribati, Solomon Islands, El Salvador, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Gambia. Also answers question: Where is Republic of China located? (Colorblind accessible)
Click to enlarge. By Evan Centanni, modified from public domain blank world map.
Contact us for permission to use this map.
Article by Evan Centanni

Solomon Islands and Kiribati Cut Ties with Taiwan

Flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Short Name (informal):  
• Taiwan (English)
• ROC (English)
• Táiwān (Mandarin Chinese)
Official Name (in constitution):  
• Republic of China (English)
• Zhōnghuá Mínguó (Mandarin Chinese)
Other names used officially:  
• "Republic of China (Taiwan)" (government offices)
• Chinese Taipei (international sports)
• Taiwan, Province of China (used by UN without Taiwan's input)   
Taipei (de facto)
Claimed by: People's Republic of China 
For the first time this year, two more countries have withdrawn their official endorsements of disputed Taiwan, looking to establish formal relations with Mainland China instead. Solomon Islands made the long-expected announcement on September 16, and tiny Kiribati (pronounced "KIH-rih-bass") unexpectedly followed suit four days later. In both cases, Taiwan's government made a point of officially cutting ties itself before the other countries made their announcements.

The Mainland Chinese government in Beijing claims that Taiwan is part of China, and with their latest move, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati are no longer disputing this. Taiwan has lost several such allies since 2016, but not from the Oceania region. The last time a Pacific island country cut ties with Taiwan was almost 15 years ago.

Solomon Islands officially established its new ties with Mainland China on September 21, and Kiribati is expected to do the same soon. (Update: Kiribati and Mainland China formally established diplomatic ties with each other on September 27.)

Is Taiwan a Country?

The islands of Taiwan operate like an independent country today, but are governed under the constitution of the "Republic of China" (ROC), the government that ruled Mainland China before the country's communist revolution (the government that now rules the Mainland is called the People's Republic of China, or PRC).

Since 1991, Taiwan's government has sought recognition separate from Mainland China in the UN, without challenging the PRC's right to the Mainland. But because the Mainland government insists Taiwan can't be separate, it cuts ties with any countries that set up relations with Taiwan, even if they want to stay friends with China too.

Learn More: What Exactly is Taiwan, and Do Countries Really "Recognize" It?

Controversy in Solomon Islands

The prime minister of Solomon Islands has been hinting that he would switch the country's relations from Taiwan to Mainland China since taking office back in April. But his government is facing controversy over the decision back home, and has received intense criticism from another important ally - the United States. Pro-Taiwan (or pro-US) citizens in one Solomon Islands province, Malaita, are even calling for their island to secede from the country. Malaita separatism is actually nothing new, but the current push is a big enough deal that the province's government is making a point of addressing it.

Why Did They Do It?

Taiwan's government claims that Kiribati had demanded money from it to buy commercial airplanes, and that after getting turned down, it decided to switch to Mainland China. The government of Kiribati has not confirmed this story, but it's a safe bet that both it and Solomon Islands are expecting aid or better investments from Beijing after their show of loyalty. For decades, the governments of Taiwan and Mainland China have been competing for allies using promises of financial help.

Update 2019-11-14: It was later revealed that China had reached a deal to lease an entire inhabited island in the Solomons for industrial development and a special economic zone. The agreement was signed on September 22, the very next day after Solomon Island established formal relations with Mainland China. However, the deal was signed by one of Solomon Islands' provinces, not by the national government, which soon struck it down. China was still expected to pay for a new stadium for Solomon Islands to host the 2023 Pacific Games, and was moving forward with a massive infrastructure project for gold mining on Guadalcanal Island.

Republic of China: Shrinking Recognition

Today, only 15 countries in the world (about 8%) still have formal diplomatic relations with the Taiwan-based "Republic of China" government - the closest equivalent to officially "recognizing" Taiwan as a country. That includes 14 United Nations (UN) member countries plus UN observer state Vatican City.

Solomon Islands and Kirbati are the sixth and seventh countries to drop Taiwan since the current ROC president, which Mainland China sees as a supporter of Taiwan independence, took office in 2016. Before these two, the last five countries to switch to China were El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Burkina Faso last year, Panama in June 2017, and São Tomé and Príncipe in December 2016.

Only one country, the Gambia, abandoned Taiwan between 2008 and 2016, during a "diplomatic truce" declared by Taiwan's most Mainland-friendly president. Even then, the PRC waited until that president left office before restoring its own relations with the Gambia.

Graphic of the Republic of China (Taiwan) flag is in the public domain (source).