Panama says it will switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China. The decision effectively expands China’s influence in Central America.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Verela made the announcement on Monday. He said China is the second most important user of the Panama Canal, the country’s important waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Varela said of the decision, “I’m convinced that this is the correct path for our country.”
Taiwan reacted to Panama’s action by cutting formal ties with Panama and ending all aid. In a statement, it called the change “an extremely unfriendly act.”
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen had visited Panama last year to strengthen ties. She attended a ceremony for the expansion of the Panama Canal. Tsai also offered Panama a donation of 3,000 boxes of flu medicine to fight an outbreak in Panama, according to the Central News Agency based in Taipei.
Panama’s decision comes after several years of private talks between Chinese and Panamanian leaders.
The Latin American news website El Universo says China is the second-biggest investor in the Panama Canal after the United States. It says China sends 19 percent of the goods that pass through the canal yearly.
A China-supported project to build another canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through Nicaragua has not started.
China continues pressure on Taiwan’s government
Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 when China was admitted. The United States and Japan, however, continue to have strong informal relations with Taiwan.
Currently, about 19 countries and the Vatican have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Many are small countries in Africa, Central America, and islands in the Caribbean Sea and the South Pacific Ocean.
Under former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, no allies switched sides. However, other Latin American and Caribbean countries have been considering formalizing relations with China.
China considers Taiwan a rebel province and has threatened to use force if the island declares independence. It is expected to carefully seek to establish relations with more of Taiwan’s allies.
Alex Chiang is a professor of international relations at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
“I think China will be selective because they don’t want to embarrass Taiwan, so I think they will only try to go slowly and also give time to Taiwan to react,” said Chiang.
Political scientists say Taiwan can have fewer than 10 allies if necessary. The island looks to those allies to speak up in the United Nations.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
switch –v. to change from one to another
selective –adj. permitting only a few
embarrass –v. to cause to appear weak or foolish in public