Nicaragua has cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, leaving the democratic, autonomous island with only 14 official diplomatic allies amid constant pressure from China, which claims the island belongs to it.
The Central American country made the announcement in a brief statement Thursday from its foreign ministry, citing Beijing’s one-China policy.
“The government of the Republic of Nicaragua declares that it recognizes that there is only one China in the world,” the statement said. “The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. Today, the government of the Republic of Nicaragua cuts diplomatic relations with Taiwan and ceases any official contact or relationship.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said early Friday that it “deeply regrets” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s decision to “disregard the friendship” of the Taiwanese people.
Taiwan also said it had cut ties with Nicaragua, although the decision is widely seen by Nicaragua as unilateral.
The government of Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, fled to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil War. She represented China at the United Nations from the end of World War II until the early 1970s.
Since the first decade of the 21st century, China has steadily abandoned Taiwan’s remaining allies who are mostly small nations in the Caribbean, South America, and Pacific islands as well as the Holy See.
It has become increasingly assertive since President Tsai Ing-wen elected its first president in 2016, with both Kiribati and Solomon Islands seceding from Taiwan in 2019. However, the Solomon Islands’ decision remains controversial, and has contributed to the unrest that erupted last month in the capital. Honiara, which left at least three dead.
An offer they can’t refuse
During the Cold War, Taiwan and Nicaragua were united by the anti-communist beliefs of their authoritarian one-party states, led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Somoza family respectively.
Both later converted to democracy although Nicaragua followed a more stable path.
President Daniel Ortega has been in power for 14 years and before elections last month, which the US, UK and EU criticized as “sham” and some, jailed more than a dozen opposition leaders before the vote for violating national security laws.
The country was also rocked by months of protests in 2018 in 2019, which resulted in at least 325 deaths and hundreds of arrests, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The United States imposed sanctions on Ortega and his family during the unrest, and his government relied on financial support from Taiwan including a $3 million donation to police in 2018 and a $100 million loan in 2019.
However, other foreign aid from Taiwan has taken the form of more moderate school lunch projects, health care and agricultural development projects, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Leif Nachman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Fairbanks Center, said Nicaragua may have been asked to make the change because it “has an offer they can’t refuse” from China. He added that these incentives are likely to be in the form of foreign aid, trade deals or other investment projects.
Beijing reacted angrily to countries that sought closer ties with Taiwan, downgrading ties with Lithuania after Taipei opened a representative office in the Baltic nation using the name “Taiwan” instead of the usual Taipei.
However, amid deteriorating relations between China and many Western democracies, the island has seen an increase in the number of delegations willing to risk Beijing’s wrath to visit the island.
Early last month, a delegation of seven members of the European Parliament visited Taipei amid concerns in the European Union about alleged attempts by China to influence European politics and sow misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later in November, a group of five bipartisan representatives of the US House of Representatives met Tsai for a surprise one-day visit.
The last time Beijing and Taipei came close to military conflict was during the 1950s on a remote Taiwanese island, but Beijing also launched missiles toward Taiwan ahead of its first democratic elections in 1996.
Beijing has also used other methods to isolate Taiwan – from pressuring international organizations such as the United Nations to exclude it as an observer to regularly send military aircraft into its airspace.
Taiwan still formally claims mainland China in its constitution, but has largely moved away from that position since its democratic transition.
However, conservative members of the Kuomintang, one of Taiwan’s two main political parties, still hope to one day formally unite with China.