September 9, 2019 / 5:10 PM / 8 days ago

Solomon Islands says 'business as usual' with Taiwan as it mulls diplomatic switch to China

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Solomon Islands said on Monday that its diplomatic ties with Taiwan were stable, giving the assurance even as China woos the Pacific nation with a development fund if it switches alliance from Taipei to Beijing.

Houses are seen in Honiara in the Solomon Islands, June 3, 2019. AAP Image/Darren England/via REUTERS

Solomons Deputy Foreign Minister Collin Beck told reporters in Taipei that his government, which has formed a task force to study the pros and cons of a switch to Beijing, will make a decision after examining its relations with all countries.

“It’s business as usual for us until a decision is taken,” Beck told a joint press conference with Taiwan’s foreign ministry. He declined to elaborate on the timetable for the review.

A senior Solomons lawmaker said last week the government intends to sever diplomatic ties with Taipei and align with Beijing, which is offering $8.5 million in development funds to replace support from Taiwan.

That is part of a global push by China to peel away the allies of what it considers a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties. Only 17 countries now recognize self-ruled Taiwan.

China and Taiwan have fought a tug-of-war for diplomatic recognition in the South Pacific for decades, with some island nations switching allegiances for financial gain.

Earlier on Monday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen put on a display of friendship as she met Solomons Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele, calling the Pacific nation a “very solid friend” for Taiwan.

“Taiwan and the Solomon Islands will work together to strength bilateral relations between the two nations in the future,” she said in a statement.

A switch would be a prize for China in its campaign to secure allies from self-ruled and democratic Taiwan.

But it would be a fresh blow for Tsai, who is seeking re-election in January amid criticism over her handling of Beijing as tensions rise across the strait. Tsai has lost five diplomatic allies to Beijing since she came to office in 2016.

The Solomons has recognized Taiwan since 1983 and is the largest of the Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, with access to the airfields and deepwater ports dating back to World War Two.

Reporting By Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher; Editing by Frances Kerry

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