China says not putting pressure on Taiwan's last Africa ally

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is not putting any pressure on self-ruled Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Africa, the Kingdom of eSwatini, to switch to Beijing, but believes it is just a matter of time before that happens, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Saturday.

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China has become increasingly vocal about its desire to win away the country, formerly known as Swaziland, from Taiwan, even as the eSwatini government has denounced Beijing for playing “mind games” and says it has no desire to ditch Taipei.

eSwatini will be the only African country not represented at a major summit between China and the continent opening in Beijing next week, where President Xi Jinping is likely to offer new loans and aid for Africa.

Speaking at a news briefing, China’s special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, said the issue of eSwatini and its lack of ties to Beijing was “an important question”, but it was up to them to take the initiative.

“On this issue we won’t exert any pressure. We’ll wait for the time to be right,” Xu said. “I believe this day will come sooner or later.”

Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 17 countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

Taiwan has vowed to fight China’s “increasingly out of control” behavior after Taipei last month lost another ally to Beijing when El Salvador became the third country to switch allegiances to China this year.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed not to bow to Chinese pressure, and Taipei has accused Beijing of offering generous aid and loan packages to lure its allies across, charges China strongly denies.

Cheng Tao, a former head of the Africa division at China’s Foreign Ministry, said at the same news briefing that he had been involved in talks with African countries about abandoning Taiwan and recognizing China, and that money requests had come up.

“They said that while we want to establish diplomatic ties with China, we hope China can give us certain support financially,” Cheng said, without naming the countries he had been in talks with. “They were very blunt.”

“We told them. Establishing ties is a political decision. It’s not a deal,” he added.

China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai’s election as Beijing fears she wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. She says she wants to maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill