BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Costa Rica, bowing to China’s growing economic might, has switched allegiance to China from Taiwan in the latest blow for an island Beijing claims as its own and which now has only 24 allies left in the world.
Taiwan’s diplomatic ties are with mostly small, poor nations, including much of Central America and scattered countries in the South Pacific and Africa, compared with more than 170 countries that recognize Beijing.
“We tried our very best to try and maintain ties with Costa Rica, but eventually we failed,” Taiwan Foreign Minister James Huang told a news conference in Taipei on Thursday, lambasting China’s latest moves to isolate the island.
“This is ironic,” Huang said. “This is not something that a country which stands for peace and democracy should do, cut ties with its partner of 60 years.”
Costa Rica President Oscar Arias said he made the decision in recognition of China’s growing economic stature. “It is an act of elemental realism,” he told a news conference in San Jose.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the agreement to switch ties was signed by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Costa Rican counterpart in Beijing on June 1.
“The governments of the two countries agree to exchange ambassadors and set up embassies as soon as possible,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its Web site (www.fmprc.gov.cn).
“Forming diplomatic relations between China and Costa Rica is in the interest of both peoples,” ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference, adding that China was willing to establish relations with other countries in the region that now recognize Taiwan.
She urged those countries to “follow the tide of history and make the correct choice”.
China and Taiwan have faced off since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of a civil war in 1949. Beijing leaders have maintained that self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is part of its territory rather than a separate country — the “one China” policy.
Costa Rica, which recently seized contaminated toothpaste in a row over the safety of Chinese-made goods, had had contacts with China that began with a U.N. encounter in September, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman David Wang said on Wednesday.
Costa Rica also voted last month against Taiwan’s bid for World Health Organisation membership but indicated later that two-way diplomatic ties would continue.
In April, the tiny Caribbean island of St. Lucia agreed to relaunch diplomatic ties with Taipei, prompting anger in Beijing.
Beijing and Taipei often trade insults over which is using “dollar diplomacy” in the form of offers of aid or cheap loans to curry influence around the world.
Some countries have used this to their advantage, threatening to suspend ties with one side or the other should a demand for money be refused.
Niger and Taiwan renewed relations in 1992, causing a break in the African country’s ties with China, but winning Niamey a $50 million Taiwan loan. Niger went back to Beijing in 1996.
In 1998, Taiwan lost the Central African Republic — which has switched sides a record six times — and Guinea-Bissau after turning down loan requests.
Huang said Taiwan had not waged a bidding battle over Costa Rica, a nation of 4.1 million people with a higher standard of living than its larger neighbors.
Costa Rica’s break with Taiwan should not spread to other Central American nations, he added.
“I believe that Costa Rica is an isolated case,” Huang said.
But Huang also offered to resign over the loss of Costa Rica. The cabinet has not responded to the offer.