China increased diplomatic pressure on Taiwan on Saturday by urging the self-ruled island’s last African ally, Swaziland, to align with Beijing as Burkina Faso re-established Chinese ties.
Taiwan, which is claimed by China as its own, is Beijing’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing says Taiwan is merely a Chinese province, with no right to state-to-state relations.
China has mounted a concerted campaign over the past two years to lure away Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, as it seeks to pressure Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who it fears wants to push for the island’s formal independence.
Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo but will not be bullied by China and will defend Taiwan and its democracy.
On Thursday, the West African state of Burkina Faso said it was severing ties with Taiwan, the second country in a month to abandon Taipei, following the Dominican Republic.
Taiwan now has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa — the tiny kingdom of Swaziland — and official relations with just 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific such as Belize and Nauru.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing after signing an agreement to re-establish relations with Burkina Faso, the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi noted that only one African state had yet to come over to China.
“We sincerely hope that this county will join the family of China-Africa friendship at an early date,” Wang said, with Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry at his side.
Wang added he was confident that all of Africa would stand by China’s side “in the historic cause of China’s full national reunification”.
Taiwan has accused China of using dollar diplomacy to lure away its allies, promising generous aid packages, charges China has denied. Tsai visited Swaziland in April to shore up ties.
Some countries have switched back and forth between Beijing and Taipei several times. It is the second time Burkina has cut ties with Taiwan. It last did so in 1973, before resuming relations with Taipei in 1994.
Barry said a delegation of Chinese experts would visit in the coming days to assess the county’s needs for development assistance, hopefully in time for an agreement by September when President Roch Marc Kabore would be in Beijing for a summit between China and African leaders.
“Burkina Faso intends to fully benefit from the strength and expertise of this county, seeking its support on many social and economic development projects in our own country,” Barry said.
China is Africa’s largest trade partner, with massive investments in mining, construction and banking, though it has been less active to date in Burkina.
Burkina is the fourth country to cut ties with Taiwan since Tsai came to office, following the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe and Panama.
The Vatican is possibly next, as the Holy See and China edge closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops there.