BEIJING (Reuters) - China promised strong support on Monday for its newest friend in Africa, the former Taiwan ally Sao Tome and Principe, whose foreign minister made a pitch for Chinese firms to invest in his “tranquil” country as the two re-established ties.
Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, has accused Beijing of taking advantage of Sao Tome’s financial woes to push the move and that Taipei will not engage in “dollar diplomacy”.
China has previously dismissed those claims and Sao Tome has denied reports it approached Taiwan for money.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking to reporters after signing the deal to set up ties with Sao Tome, said the move would be good for both countries.
“Sao Tome will get full support and help from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the world’s largest developing nation,” he said, with Sao Tome Foreign Minister Urbino Botelho standing at his side.
“China is willing to support Sao Tome’s quest for socio-economic development and efforts to improve livelihoods and well-being to the best of its ability,” Wang said, without giving details on what aid or trade deals China may offer.
Botelho, speaking in Portuguese in comments translated into Chinese, said Sao Tome had made up for the mistakes of the past and made friends with China, which cut ties with Sao Tome in 1997 after it recognized Taiwan.
“We have to recognize that China plays an increasingly important role in the world, especially as a partner to promote development and its contributions protecting the interests of developing nations,” Botelho said.
“Sao Tome is a small, island nation, with very friendly people. It is tranquil. It has very good conditions for developing trade and business and cooperating with Chinese companies.”
Sao Tome has beautiful scenery for tourists, a strategic location in the Gulf of Guinea and potential for investment in mining, agriculture and the building of ports and airports, Botelho said.
“We hope that interested Chinese companies can join in this discussion.”
Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province ineligible for state-to-state relations, had as many as 30 diplomatic allies in the mid-1990s, but now has formal relations with just 21, mostly smaller and poorer nations in Latin America and the Pacific.
The former Portuguese colony’s tiny island economy is heavily dependent on cocoa exports but its position in the middle of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea has raised interest in its potential as a possible oil and gas producer.
China and Taiwan have over the years tried to poach each other’s allies, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations.
China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who it thinks wants to push for the island’s formal independence, though she says she wants to maintain peace with China.
China’s claim to Taiwan has shot back into the spotlight since U.S. President-elect Donald Trump broke diplomatic protocol and spoke with Tsai this month, angering Beijing.
Trump has also questioned the “one China” policy which the United States has followed since establishing relations with Beijing in 1979, under which the United States acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.
Editing by Nick Macfie