Rodrigo Arangua | AFP | Getty Images
Container ship Cosco Development, registered and sailing under the flag of Hong Kong, with capacity for more than 13,000 containers, is seen at the Agua Clara locks in Colon, 90 km from Panama City on May 2, 2017. The Cosco Development became Thursday the largest ship to cross the Panama Canal.
Panama has established diplomatic ties with China and broken with Taiwan in a major victory for Beijing, which continues to lure away the dwindling number of countries that have formal relations with the self-ruled island.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said in a televised address on Monday that Panama was upgrading its commercial ties with China and establishing full diplomatic links with the second most important customer of its key shipping canal.
“I’m convinced that this is the correct path for our country,” Varela said.
Taiwan’s government said it was sorry and angry over Panama’s decision, and said it would not compete with China in what it described as a “diplomatic money game.”
“Our government expresses serious objections and strong condemnation in response to China enticing Panama to cut ties with us, confining our international space and offending the people of Taiwan,” David Lee, Taiwan’s minister of foreign affairs, told a briefing in Taipei.
China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who it thinks wants to push for the island’s formal independence, although she says she wants to maintain peace with Beijing.
China and Taiwan have tried to poach each other’s allies over the years, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations, although Taipei struggles to compete with an increasingly powerful China.
Panama is the second country to switch its recognition to Beijing since Tsai took office last year, following a similar move by Sao Tome and Principe in December, trimming to 20 the number of countries that formally recognize Taiwan.
Taiwan had as many as 30 diplomatic allies in the mid-1990s, and its remaining formal ties are with mostly smaller and poorer nations in Latin America and the Pacific.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Panama’s Foreign Minister Isabel de Saint Malo in Beijing on Tuesday and signed a joint communiqué establishing ties.
“The two countries’ governments agreed to develop good friendly relations on the principles of mutual respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.