Taiwan has reacted angrily to Panama’s severance of diplomatic ties with the island, accusing the Central American nation of yielding to Beijing for the sake of financial gain.

President Juan Carlos Varela announced Tuesday that Panama and China were establishing diplomatic relations. He said on national TV that the nation now “recognises that there is only one China in the world” and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.

“The Government of the Republic of Panama today breaks its “diplomatic relations” with Taiwan and promises to leave all relations or official contacts with Taiwan,” a statement from his government said.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi with his Panamanian counterpart on Tuesday. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Panama’s termination of its 107 years of diplomatic ties with Taiwan means the island is now only recognised by 20 countries.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry reacted to the announcement with “anger and regret,” retaliating with a statement hours later saying it was also terminating its diplomatic relations with Panama in order to “protect our country’s sovereignty and dignity.”

‘Dollar diplomacy’

It will immediately end cooperation and aid to Panama, and withdraw staff and technical personnel from its embassy, Foreign Minister David Lee Ta-wei said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“President Varela’s government disregarded the solidarity and friendship of our peoples over many years, disregarded Taiwan’s long-term assistance and cooperation in different realms for Panama’s overall development, and actually yielded to the Beijing authorities for the sake of financial gain – changing its diplomatic direction, and using an extremely unfriendly method to deceive the Taiwan government until the last moment,” he said.

According to unnamed sources speaking to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, the ministry was only notified 40 minutes before Panama’s official announcement. But Lee said the ministry had a handle on the situation and had attempted steps to handle it.

He said that Taiwan would not compete with Beijing in its “dollar diplomacy.”

Lee added that Taiwan’s determination to protect peace and stability within its territory would not change, and it would continue to pursue “pragmatic diplomacy” and fight for its deserved place in the international community.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee Ta-wei speaking to the press. Photo: Screenshot.

The office of Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s also reacted furiously, condemning the announcement and accusing Beijing of manipulating the one China policy to suppress Taiwan’s international space.

“This kind of action is not only an open threat to Taiwanese people’s survival and welfare but also an open provocation to peace and stability in the Taiwan strait and the region.”

It added that Taiwan would reassess the cross-strait situation, and urged Beijing to “be a responsible regional power” and halt activities that would harm regional stability and the Taiwanese people.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi said that on Tuesday that the decision “completely meets the fundamental benefits of the Panamanian country and its people, completely meets the trend of the progression of the times, and completely meets the ‘one China’ configuration formed by the international community. The Chinese government and people highly praise and warmly welcome it.”

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.