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Taiwan warns Solomon Islands of China 'debt trap' in diplomatic switch

Taiwan warns Solomon Islands of China 'debt trap' in diplomatic switch
Houses are seen in Honiara in the Solomon Islands, June 3, 2019. Picture taken June 3, 2019. AAP Image/Darren England/via REUTERS -
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TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan on Friday warned the Solomon Islands which intends to switch diplomatic ties to China that such a move had left some Pacific nations in a “debt trap”.

“China’s expansion in the Pacific has made many countries to fall into the trap of debt,” Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s foreign ministry, told Reuters.

“The flashy infrastructure that China promised has caused serious damage to the local ecosystem and infringed their sovereignty,” she said.

The Solomon Islands intends to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and align itself with Beijing, the leader of a high-level government team examining the diplomatic issue said on Wednesday.

Beijing is offering to bankroll a development fund to replace an annual $8.5 million fund currently backed by Taiwan, said lawmaker Peter Shanel Agovaka

A switch, which still needs to be formalised, would be a prize for China in its campaign to secure allies from Taiwan, which it considers a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties. Only 17 countries now recognise Taiwan.

It would also deal a fresh blow to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen who is seeking re-election in January amid criticism over her handling of Beijing, as tensions rise across the strait. Tsai has lost five diplomatic allies to Beijing since she came to office in 2016.

China and Taiwan have fought a tug-of-war for diplomatic recognition in the South Pacific for decades, with some island nations switching allegiances for financial gain and in return give support in international forums like the United Nations.

The South Pacific has been a diplomatic stronghold for Taiwan, where formal ties with six of the 16 island nations make up more than a third of its total alliances.

The Solomons have recognised Taiwan since 1983 and is the largest of the Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, with access to the airfields and deepwater ports dating back to World War Two.

Taiwan said it believed ties with the Solomons were stable.

“Representatives from the civil society mostly support maintaining the official relations with Taiwan and are doubtful towards the so-called ‘switching of ties,’” Ou said.

“We believe the Solomons government and people are alerted by China’s usual deceptive tricks, overbearing behaviours and untrustworthiness in the international society.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The ministry has so far declined to comment on the Solomons, except to say that China is willing to have relations with all countries based on the “on China” principle, which refers to China’s stance that Taiwan and it both belong to one China.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported earlier this week that Solomon Islands foreign minister Jeremiah Manele was planning to visit Taipei over the weekend in a move it called an indicator of “stable relations” between the two sides.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the report.

Tug of war in the Pacific –

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry)

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