Taiwan president to visit Pacific allies amid China pressure
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen will visit three Pacific nations in the next month, the foreign ministry said Friday, as fears grow of China influencing its dwindling list of allies.
It comes after Panama cut official ties with Taiwan in June, choosing instead to form diplomatic relations with China -- leaving the island with only 20 nations worldwide that recognise it as a country.
Beijing has been wooing other countries to dump Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory to be brought back into its fold at some point.
The two sides split after a civil war in 1949, and while Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign nation, it has never formally declared independence.
China has stepped up pressure to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai came to power last May, as she has refused to acknowledge its "one China" principle.
The Taiwan leader will visit the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands between October 28 and November 4 -- three of its six Pacific allies.
"Through the president's first visit to the Pacific since taking office, we hope to show the importance we place on these friendships and our strong determination to strengthen relations," Francois Wu, deputy foreign affairs minister, told reporters Friday.
Wu declined to give details about where Tsai will transit, saying it is a "sensitive time" as the trip will take place right after a major congress of China's ruling Communist Party.
Taiwan is typically low-key in announcing its leader's specific itineraries, fearing China's use of its power to disrupt.
Tsai's last state visit was to Central American allies in January, during which she made stopovers in the United States.
Beijing had asked Washington then to bar Tsai from flying through US airspace, but the request was ignored.
Taiwan has accused China of luring its allies with economic incentives and has said it will not engage in "chequebook diplomacy" with Beijing.
Since Tsai came to power, the small African nation of Sao Tome also switched recognition to Beijing last December.
Taiwan's most powerful remaining ally is The Vatican -- its only one in Europe -- but there have been signs Beijing is working towards resuming relations with the Holy See.