Kiribati says national interest behind cutting Taiwan ties in favor of China

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Pacific island nation of Kiribati acted in its best national interest when it severed ties with Taiwan and re-established diplomatic relations with China, the office of Kiribati’s president said on Saturday.

Taiwan, losing a second ally in less than a week, said on Friday that China lured Kiribati with economic investment. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Beijing was trying to “suppress and reduce Taiwan’s international presence”.

The office of Kiribati’s president Taneti Maamau said in an e-mailed statement that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations came “following a long internal review and assessment of our international relations in accordance with the best national interest for our country and people.”

The switch to recognize Beijing, just days after the Solomon Islands cut ties with Taiwan, deals a fresh blow to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January, as it takes to seven the tally of allies lost to China since she took office in 2016.

Both Kiribati, with a population of around 110,000, and the Solomon Islands lie in strategic waters that have been dominated by the United States and its allies following the Second World War.

Aid requested by Kiribati from Beijing includes loans and a Boeing 737 aircraft, said a senior official in Taiwan with direct knowledge of the matter who sought anonymity.

Friday’s switch left Taiwan with formal relations with just 15 countries.

Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Ros Russell