By Yimou Lee
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Friday that China had failed to deliver aid promises worth $8.6 billion and instead “exported corruption” to nations that had switched allegiance to Beijing from Taipei, amid a tug-of-war for diplomatic recognition.
China has in recent months stepped up a campaign to peel away more allies from self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory and so ineligible for state-to-state relations, ahead of a January presidential election in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Beijing had made “false” aid promises totalling $8.6 billion to several of Taiwan’s former allies, for various projects from sea ports to highways.
“To lure Taiwan’s allies to build ties with them, China often makes promises with huge amounts of money. But we realise those promises were not fulfilled,” Wu told reporters in Taipei.
“We have been telling our allies that don’t think you can hugely benefit from China just because of these false promises,” he said, citing a long list of projects he said China had failed to deliver to Taiwan’s former allies including the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome, Burkina Faso and El Salvador.
In Beijing, China said this was a smear.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing started “cooperation with many countries on the basis of a win-win” and they were “not only in China’s interest but are in the other country’s interests”.
“These real benefits are something the citizens of these other countries can truly feel. These types of cooperation cannot be effaced by anyone’s attacks or smear attempts.”
Beijing has redoubled it efforts to “reunify” Taiwan, flying regular bomber patrols around it and seeking to isolate it diplomatically.
That has presented a challenge to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election and has seen seven countries drop Taiwan as an ally since she took office in 2016.
Wu said China was exporting “corruption and authoritarianism” to those countries and “putting money directly into the pockets of corrupt politicians”.
“Either China has limited capacity to deliver those promises, or they were just unwilling to deliver those promises,” Wu said. “This could be a cautionary tale for our allies.”
Taiwan now has only 15 diplomatic allies, many of them smaller, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru.
Tuvalu, one of Taiwan’s remaining allies in the Pacific, told Reuters this week the nation had rejected offers from Chinese companies to build artificial islands to help it cope with rising sea levels, giving some relief for Tsai.
China believes Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing which has threatened to attack if this happens. Tsai has repeatedly said she wishes to maintain the status with China, but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and security.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and by Huizhong Wu in Beijing; Editing by Catherine Evans)