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Taiwan Loses Another Diplomatic Tie, as China Continues Isolation Campaign

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Taiwan Loses Another Diplomatic Tie, as China Continues Isolation Campaign

BEIJING—Kiribati has become the second Pacific nation in less than a week to end diplomatic relations with Taipei and switch allegiance to Beijing, reflecting China’s strategic gains in the region while squeezing an increasingly isolated Taiwan.

The defection comes after the Solomon Islands cut ties with Taiwan on Monday. Taiwan now has diplomatic partnerships with only 15 countries, as Beijing steadily ratchets up pressure on the self-ruled island ahead of its presidential election in January.

“Choosing to leave a sincere friend in Taiwan to become a chess piece for China, this is certainly a very big mistake,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Friday.

Ms. Tsai said Beijing’s goal is to interfere with the outcome of next year’s election. “They are trying to tell the Taiwan people that we can’t buy jet fighters, that we can’t support Hong Kong and that we can only choose a president who bows their head to China,” she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the government welcomed the resumption of ties with Kiribati, which had shunned Beijing for Taipei in 2003. The Solomons had maintained official ties with Taiwan stretching back to 1983.

“In the past few days the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, both Pacific Island countries, decided to recognize the ‘one China’ principle and sever ties with Taiwan. It is a further testament that the ‘one China’ principle is an overriding trend of the times recognized by all,” Mr. Geng said, referring to Beijing’s position that there is only one China, and that Taiwan is part of it.

Taiwan’s coming election pits Ms. Tsai, the island’s first female president and whose party favors formal independence from China, against Han Kuo-yu of the opposition Nationalist Party, which typically backs closer ties with Beijing.

China halted its campaign to poach Taiwan’s diplomatic allies during the eight-year administration of Ms. Tsai’s predecessor, President

Ma Ying-jeou

of the Nationalist Party. Beijing resumed its efforts in 2016 after Ms. Tsai was elected.

Kiribati is the seventh country to cut ties with Taiwan during Ms. Tsai’s presidency. Last year alone, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

China’s success in persuading Taiwan’s two largest allies in the South Pacific to switch diplomatic recognition in quick succession is indicative of its growing clout in the resource-rich region. Beijing has achieved this despite increased coordination by the U.S. and its allies—including the region’s traditional power, Australia—to counter China’s increasingly assertive push for influence.

Kiribati’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan Pryke,

director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program in Sydney, said it is conceivable that other Pacific Island nations such as Nauru and Tuvalu could follow the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, particularly as Taiwan hasn’t shown much appetite to match economic incentives dangled by China.

“It’s clearly a big win for China having the two largest allies of Taiwan in the Pacific drop so quickly, one after the other,” Mr. Pryke said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Kiribati President

Taneti Mamau

had requested a large amount of financial assistance from Taipei to purchase commercial airplanes. The ministry said the Chinese government promised the South Pacific nation it would provide funds to purchase airplanes and commercial ferries, “thus luring Kiribati into switching diplomatic relations.”

Mr. Geng rebuffed Taipei’s allegation that Kiribati’s decision was financially motivated.

Write to Philip Wen at philip.wen@wsj.com

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