Luring Panama away from Taiwan a troubling diplomatic move by China

Japan Yomiuri Shimbun

China is stepping up efforts to isolate Taiwan, a policy that is making waves. Applying pressure that stems from China’s superiority in the military and economic fields will only heighten tensions between China and Taiwan.

The Central American nation of Panama has established diplomatic ties with China, severing a diplomatic relationship with Taiwan that dates back more than a century.

The Panama Canal is a strategically important maritime traffic passage linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. China anticipates that establishing diplomatic relations with Panama will lead to expanding its investments and interests in the logistics hub. This also looks likely to give China a foothold from which to make a full-fledged push into the U.S. “backyard” of Central and South America.

In December 2016, the African nation of Sao Tome and Principe cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Panama’s switch has reduced the number of nations that have diplomatic ties with Taipei to 20.

This is a result of the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s policy of chipping away at nations friendly to Taiwan by offering massive economic assistance. Beijing reportedly also is holding negotiations behind closed doors with the Vatican, Taiwan’s sole diplomatic ally in Europe.

Pressure being applied by the Xi government is also reaching international bodies. The International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Organization have refused to allow Taiwan to attend their assembly meetings, out of consideration for China. Shutting Taiwan out of international frameworks involving air safety and human health is also problematic from a humanitarian perspective.

Beijing’s series of diplomatic offensives probably aims to make the administration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen accept the “one China” principle, which maintains that Taiwan is a part of China.

U.S. has key role

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which Tsai chairs, champions a platform calling for Taiwan’s independence. Although Tsai has put a seal on debates on independence and is seeking to hold dialogue with China, she has not accepted the assertions made by the Chinese side.

This is because there is a strong sense of alarm among Taiwan residents that Taiwan will be swallowed up politically and economically by China, and those feelings are fueling desires for distance from China.

Tsai has bristled at China’s increased pressure, saying that making concessions is impossible. Within the DPP, there is mounting criticism that Tsai’s dialogue path is “reaching a dead end,” and the hard-line forces opposed to China are gaining strength.

It seems China’s plan to make Taiwan fall into line through diplomatic maneuvering might actually be having the opposite effect.

China-Taiwan tensions are a cause for concern in regard to East Asian security. China, as a major nation with a responsibility to ensure stability in the region, must actively make efforts to improve ties.

China’s blatant pressure on Taiwan is also partly the result of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump failing to settle on a policy toward China.

The United States is committed to strengthening Taiwan’s ability to defend itself and holds the key to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has clearly stated Washington will continue supplying weapons to Taiwan. The United States will need to maintain its active involvement in this issue.

Yomiuri Shimbun is a Japanese national newspaper headquartered in Tokyo with a 140-year history and a morning circulation of 9 million.