(CNSNews.com) – The White House late Thursday accused China of interfering in the Western Hemisphere after El Salvador became the latest of a dwindling number of allies to abandon Taiwan in favor of relations with Beijing.
In a statement, press secretary Sarah Sanders also signaled that the move by the leftist administration of the tiny Central American nation would “result in a reevaluation of our relationship with El Salvador.”
Already some Republican senators have U.S. aid to El Salvador in their sights over the decision to dump Taiwan.
China regards Taiwan as a rebellious province and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes it as a sovereign state.
For years it has worked to isolate Taiwan on the international stage, offering financial and other inducements to draw mostly poor countries away – and with considerable success.
El Salvador becomes the third country to swap recognition this year, after Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic. Panama abandoned Taiwan last year, following Sao Tome and Principe in late 2016.
While 178 countries recognize China, Taipei is now left with just 17 diplomatic allies – nine in the Americas, six Pacific island nations, the Vatican City in Europe and a last African holdout, Swaziland, which is reportedly on the verge of following El Salvador.
“It is only a matter of time before Taiwan has zero ‘allies,’” the Communist Party organ Global Times gloated in an editorial Wednesday.
Noting that most countries recognizing Taiwan do more trade with China than with Taiwan, it called their establishment of ties with Beijing “an irresistible trend.”
Beyond annoyance at China’s treatment of Taiwan, the U.S. is also reportedly concerned that as part of the El Salvador switch, China plans to develop a port, La Union, with possibly military implications.
“They are trying to find weak spots in the region to make these kinds of arrangements in the region,” U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes was quoted as saying this week.
“We are concerned that it is not only an investment in a port, but that they will then want to do something with their military and expand Chinese influence in the region,” she said. “It is a strategic matter and we all need to keep our eyes open as to what is happening.”
‘Receptiveness to China’s apparent interference’
In a legislative election last March, voters handed victory to the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in a defeat for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a party led by former Marxist rebels.
(In San Salvador, ARENA lawmakers honored the departing Taiwanese ambassador, telling her they opposed the government’s decision.)
The FMLN still holds the presidency, which will be contested in a presidential election next February.
In her statement Thursday, Sanders noted the timing of the Taiwan-China shift, saying FMLN leaders took the step “in a non-transparent fashion only months before they leave office.”
“The El Salvadoran government’s receptiveness to China’s apparent interference in the domestic politics of a Western Hemisphere country is of grave concern to the United States, and will result in a reevaluation of our relationship with El Salvador,”
Sanders said that countries around the world are “waking up to the fact that China’s economic inducements facilitate economic dependency and domination, not partnership.”
In response to earlier comments by U.S. officials, China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday hit back at the criticism, noting that the U.S. itself has diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“The U.S. established its diplomatic ties with China almost 40 years ago,” spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing. “But now, it is threatening another sovereign country not to recognize the one-China principle and develop normal relations with China.”
Lu also criticized the U.S. for allowing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen – reviled in Beijing for pro-independent tendencies – to “stop over and attend activities in the U.S.” during a recent trip to visit Latin American allies.
Lu said El Salvador’s decision “corresponds with the trend of the times” and expressed the hope Swaziland would follow quickly, conforming “with the trend of the times, the development of the international situation and its own interests.”
Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he had spoken to President Trump about “cutting off” U.S. aid to El Salvador over its decision to drop Taiwan.
Rubio and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) also introduced an amendment to restrict funding to San Salvador after the Taiwan move.
“The U.S. and other democracies must stand together and reject China’s use of financial bribery and economic coercion to divide us,” Rubio said.
Taiwan enjoys strong support in the U.S. Congress.
In the same year that the Carter administration cut ties with Taiwan in favor of the mainland government in Beijing, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which established quasi-diplomatic relations with Taiwan and committed the U.S. to helping it defend itself.
American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Gary Schmitt argued in an article Wednesday that China’s foreign ministry “has a point” when it underlines that the U.S. itself has full diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“It is difficult for Washington to take the high moral ground about what just happened (and has been happening) when it was the U.S. who started this diplomatic landslide back in the 1970s on the basis of what turned out to be an unrealistic hope about a strategic partnership with the PRC and has, in turn, continually told Taiwan to accept the ‘status quo’ in cross-strait relations even when it has been clear for decades that Beijing has never accepted such and has worked without pause to undermine it.”