Dominican Republic establishes ties with China, and Taiwan loses yet another ally

Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas, left, and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi shake hands on May 1, 2018, after a signing ceremony in Beijing where they formally established diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas, left, and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi shake hands on May 1, 2018, after a signing ceremony in Beijing where they formally established diplomatic relations between the two countries.
(How Hwee Young / EPA/Shutterstock )

Just a handful of countries maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and that number got even smaller this week as the Dominican Republic recognized China instead, a decision that points to fast-growing and risky hostilities between the two Asian rivals.

The move by the Caribbean country means that only 19 nations recognize the government in Taipei, compared with the more than 170, including the United States, that have formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Beijing claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, to which the Nationalist government fled after the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, and insists on eventual unification of the two sides under a single China. But most Taiwanese surveyed say they prefer autonomy and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen rejects Beijing’s agenda.

To pressure Tsai, China periodically uses its economic clout to win over Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, officials in Taipei say. The end of Taiwanese-Dominican relations, announced Tuesday in Taipei, follows a severing of Taiwanese-Panamanian ties in 2017. A year earlier the tiny African nation of Sao Tome and Principe had broken away as well. All switched allegiance to China.


The Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, had traveled twice to China since 2016 for talks on establishing ties, the Foreign Ministry in Taipei said Tuesday. The website of the Caribbean country’s presidential office said Monday that domestic industries had “requested greater diplomatic, commercial and economic growth with the People’s Republic of China.”

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said China had given the Caribbean island nation $3 billion.

The Chinese-Dominican connection reflects Beijing’s growing irritation with Taiwan’s recent momentum in fostering informal ties with the United States, said Andy Chang, a China studies professor at Tamkang University in suburban Taipei.

Those ties include the congressional Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages senior-level Taiwan-U.S. visits, and a nod from Washington to let American defense contractors license submarine technology in Taiwan. The U.S. and Taiwan cut formal ties in 1979 when Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory.

Beijing further resents Taiwanese Premier William Lai’s comments since March calling himself a “political worker for Taiwanese independence,” Chang said.

“They think Taipei has violated its ‘one China’ policy, so it will keep putting pressure on Taiwan,” he said. “Things are just getting worse and have not bottomed out.”

China has blocked Taiwan from participating in the World Health Organization’s annual assembly this year as well as last year, officials in Taipei say. Chinese planes periodically buzz the outer limits of Taiwan’s air identification zone, the Defense Ministry in Taipei says.

The Dominican Republic’s move, which Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said followed “overblown” pledges from China, drew unusually harsh language from Taipei, which in the past had called for more “goodwill” between Taiwan and mainland China.


“Beijing’s crude attempts at foreign policy can only drive a wedge between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, erode mutual trust, and antagonize the people of Taiwan,” the Taiwanese ministry said in a statement. China has failed to deliver on aid pledges to other new allies, it warned.

A spokeswoman for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party accused China of creating “regional tension.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the Dominican Republic had agreed to see Taiwan as an “inseparable” Chinese territory.

Chinese pressure may lead Tsai even closer to Washington, said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei.


The switch by Panama prompted questions among Taiwanese about whether Tsai’s government should try to resume formal meetings with Beijing, which began in 2008 but then stopped with her election two years ago.

But Taiwanese are resigned to more such losses, said Ku Chung-hwa, standing board member in the Taipei-based political action group Citizen Congress Watch. China is using “psychological warfare” against Taiwan, he said.

Ku added that seeing another country break diplomatic relations no longer sparks the dismay it once did. “To use the term in fashion now, there’s no feeling about diplomatic allies leaving — it’s like it’s something that will inevitably happen,” he said. But, he added, “Taiwanese people will be madder at the Chinese government.”

Taiwan looks to its remaining allies for a voice in the United Nations while maintaining informal trade and investment relations with other countries.


Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials are monitoring the Vatican, its most influential ally and only one in Europe, in case it becomes the next one to sever ties. The fear arose after the Vatican talked to China this year about an agreement that would let it help choose Chinese bishops.

Jennings is a special correspondent.