BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the Solomon Islands signed an agreement on Saturday to establish diplomatic ties after the Pacific island nation ditched relations with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a Chinese province and seeks to cut off from the international community.
The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, signed the agreement with Solomon Islands’ Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele at a government guest house in Beijing in front of reporters.
China this week won over two former Taiwanese allies, Solomon Islands and Kiribati, in a setback for the self-ruled island that finds itself further isolated amid continued pressure from Beijing.
“Right now there are only very few countries that have not established diplomatic relations with China,” Wang told reporters after the signing as Manele stood by his side.
“We believe that in those countries there will be more and more people with vision who will step forward and their voice for justice and in line with the trend of history will be heard.”
Solomon Islands and Kiribati’s respective decisions to break with Taipei have dealt fresh blows to Taiwan 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.
Since Tsai’s election, China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan by flying regular bomber patrols around the island, for example. China suspects Tsai of pushing for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
China claims Taiwan as its territory and says the democratic island has no right to formal ties with any country.
China routinely denies offering easy cash and loans in return for recognition, which Taiwan has repeatedly accused Beijing of doing, but said this week that both Kiribati and the Solomon Islands would have “unprecedented development opportunities” with China by their side.
“Solomon Islands’ decision to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China is based on our national interests,” Manele told reporters on Saturday. “
Winning over Solomon Islands and Kiribati also strengthens China’s influence in the Pacific, where Washington and Canberra have grown increasingly worried about Beijing’s increasing clout.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; writing by Se Young Lee; editing by Giles Elgood