Taiwan loses ally Nauru, accuses China of post-election ploy

China regards the self-governing Taiwan as its territory to be reunified. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims. The two have for years traded accusations of using “dollar diplomacy” as they compete for diplomatic recognition.


January 16, 2024

SYDNEY/TAIPEI – Taiwan lost one of its few remaining diplomatic allies Nauru to China on Jan 15 – just days after it elected a new president – and accused Beijing of attempting to pressure it. Undeterred, Taipei affirmed its will to go out into the world.

The government of the tiny Pacific Island nation said that “in the best interests” of Nauru and its people, it was seeking full resumption of diplomatic relations with China and would cut ties with Taiwan.

Nauru recognised China previously, between 2002 and 2005.

“This means that the Republic of Nauru will no longer recognise the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a separate country but rather as an inalienable part of China’s territory, and will sever ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan as of this day and no longer develop any official relations or official exchanges with Taiwan,” it said in a statement.

China regards the self-governing Taiwan as its territory to be reunified. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.

The two have for years traded accusations of using “dollar diplomacy” as they compete for diplomatic recognition.

Taiwan security officials told Reuters before the Jan 13 election that China was likely to continue to whittle away at the handful of countries – now down to a dozen – that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taipei.

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Mr Lai Ching-te, repeatedly criticised by China before the polls as a dangerous separatist, won the election for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and will take office on May 20.

China and the United States have in recent years stepped up their competition for influence in the Pacific.

In 2019, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands both ditched Taiwan for China in the space of a week.

The US affirmed that its commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid” after the Jan 13 election, in comments delivered by former US national security adviser Stephen Hadley on Jan 15 during a trip to the island.

Taiwan Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang told a hastily arranged media briefing after Nauru’s announcement that the news had come suddenly.

Beijing specifically chose the sensitive timing after the election to target Nauru, Mr Tien said, calling the move “ambush-like” and equivalent to a “blatant attack on democracy” just as many countries were offering congratulations to Taiwan on the smooth voting process.

“Taiwan did not bow to the pressure. We elected who we want to elect. That’s unbearable for them,” he added.

China had offered Nauru, with a population of 12,500, money far in excess of what Taiwan provides its allies, Mr Tien said. “Once again, it proves that China’s trying everything they can – money diplomacy – to repress us,” he added.

A senior Taiwan official briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said Beijing is offering Nauru US$100 million (S$133 million) a year.

A Nauru government spokesperson declined to comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it appreciated and welcomed Nauru’s decision. It did not directly answer a question on how much money it had offered.

“Nauru, as a sovereign state, has made the right choice to resume diplomatic relations with China independently,” ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office said Beijing’s move amounted to suppression of the island’s diplomatic space but could not undermine the will of the Taiwanese people to go to the world, nor could it change the fact that Taiwan and China are not subordinate to each other.

Taiwan’s 12 remaining diplomatic allies include the Vatican, Guatemala and Paraguay, plus Palau, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu is in Guatemala attending the inauguration of its new president.

Nauru is a small and remote Pacific island nation that uses Australian currency and generates revenue from fishing licences and hosting a regional processing centre for refugees for the Australian government.

An Australian bank providing the country’s only banking service announced in December its plan to close its Nauruan operation.

Australia provides policing support and is a major aid donor, contributing A$46 million (S$41 million) in development assistance in 2023.

The refugee processing centre was forecast to generate A$160 million in 2024, although Australia plans to wind it down over time. REUTERS

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