The number of Taiwan’s official diplomatic allies around the world now stands at 20 after Panama chose to open diplomatic relations with mainland China, which requires the Central American nation to affirm the “One China” policy.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced the move Monday evening local time, Bloomberg reported. Varela said, however, that he hopes to continue to have constructive business relations with Taiwan. He called Taiwan “a great friend of Panama.”
Taiwán ha sido un gran amigo de Panamá, estamos agradecidos por su amistad y cooperación durante las relaciones diplomáticas que mantuvimos.
— Juan Carlos Varela (@JC_Varela) June 13, 2017
China is the second-largest user of the Panama Canal and has significant economic interests in Panama. President Varela tweeted, “With China we share visions about the importance of globalization and responsibility for realizing the global development agenda.”
While the move may come as a surprise to some, Chinese diplomats claimed in December that Panama would scrap relations with Taiwan, Apple Daily reported. At the time, a delegation of 35 Chinese company representatives visited the Central American nation to discuss investment plans, mainly in telecommunications and port-related projects.
In another article, Apple Daily cites WikiLeaks as saying that Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli wanted to abandon diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as he believed that China’s economy is beneficial to Panama.
The diplomatic move is seen as more pressure from China to isolate Taiwan. Sao Tome and Principe in western Africa also cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan late last year.
President Tsai Ing-wen had visited Panama last June as part of her first international trip as president.