On June 13 Panama announced its decision to switch diplomatic ties from the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In response, Taipei announced that it would cut ties with Panama, withdraw its diplomatic staff, and temporarily suspend all aid programmes and bilateral co-operation.
Panama’s came as a surprise to the Taiwanese side. Only in April last the ambassador to Taiwan Alfredo Martiz had reiterated Panama’s commitment to the long-lasting friendship between the two states. On June 27, 2016, Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen had visited Panama and met with President Juan Carlos Varela.
The loss of Panama is a blow to Taiwan‘s foreign policy. Since Tsai Ying-wen took office in 2016, China has tried to restrict Taiwan’s role on the international stage by establishing ties with Taipei’s allies and impeding Taiwan’s participation in international organizations such as the World Health Assembly.
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Beijing insists that Taiwan must abide by the so-called ‘1992 consensus‘, which states that Taiwan is part of China but the two sides have different interpretations on the meaning of ‘China’. Tsai has refused to publicly support the consensus and has instead promoted a Taiwan-centric platform.
The flag-lowering ceremony in front of the ROC embassy in Panama City took place on June 14. According to Taiwanese media, many staff members were crying as the 107-year-old alliance drew to a close. “Even the eyes of the old security guards were filled with tears!”, wrote a Taiwanese journalist on Facebook. “When I walk past [this building] tomorrow, I will no longer see this familiar flag!”
Panama’s defection has left Taiwan with only 20 diplomatic allies in the world.
On June 13, Panama and China signed a Joint Communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations, stating that the “Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
However, China’s attempt to put pressure on and isolate Taiwan will likely backfire, further cementing the Taiwanese people’s opposition to rapprochement policies with Beijing.
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