By Jess Macy Yu
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan has received assurances from its only remaining African ally, Swaziland, that their diplomatic ties are secure, the island’s foreign minister said on Monday, as China seeks to lure away Taiwan’s dwindling band of friends.
Taiwan has lost two diplomatic allies this month, most recently the West African state of Burkina Faso, which re-established ties with Beijing on Saturday.
The Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi urged Swaziland to follow suit.
China claims Taiwan as its own and considers the democratic island to be a wayward province, with no right to state-to-state relations. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a potential military flashpoint.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told parliament he had received assurances from Swaziland’s ambassador that they would not heed China’s call.
The ambassador said “they heavily disdain Wang Yi’s way of speaking,” Wu said, according to media reports.
Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who is Africa’s last absolute monarch, will visit Taiwan soon, Wu said.
The Swazi embassy declined to comment.
China has launched a campaign over the last two years to lure away Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, as it seeks to pressure Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who it fears wants to push for the island’s formal independence.
Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo but will not be bullied by China and will defend Taiwan and its democracy.
Taiwan now has official relations with just 18 countries, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific such as Belize and Nauru.
Haiti President Jovenel Moise will lead a 30-person delegation to Taiwan this week, the Foreign Ministry said. Taiwan and Haiti have been allies since 1956.
On Monday, the widely-read, state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said that China had to be on guard against stepped up U.S. support for Taiwan.
“The mainland should also prepare for reunifying Taiwan by force while making continuous efforts to seek a peaceful reunification,” it said in an editorial.
Taipei and Washington have no formal relations, but the United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Darren Schuettler)