Taiwan warns Pacific islands of China’s empty promises on aid

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu says democratic nations are concerned about Chinese inroads into the Pacific region. (Reuters pic)

KOROR: Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned Pacific island nations on Thursday against “empty promises” of financial aid from China, as the Solomon Islands considers switching diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.

Visiting Palau to shore up Taiwan’s relations in the Pacific – where six of its 17 diplomatic allies are located – Wu said democratic nations were concerned about Chinese inroads into the region.

“They feel it’s very important that China doesn’t extend its influence into the region,” he told reporters.

The Taiwan-allied Solomon Islands is being courted by China, which has been investing heavily in the Pacific.

Nations such as Australia and the United States fear Beijing’s interest is fuelled by a long-term goal to establish a military base in the islands, offering control of vast swathes of ocean.

China’s increased presence in the Pacific also helps it isolate self-ruling Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Wu said Taiwanese allies considering a switch to China should look at Nauru, a Pacific island which dumped Taipei for Beijing in 2002, but reversed its decision three years later.

“Very often the Chinese will say that they can come with a huge amount of investment, business opportunities, people are going to get wealthier,” he said.

“But if we look into concrete cases, very often we fall into a serious trap… it takes only two to three years to realise that those promises are empty promises.

“The relationship between Nauru and Taiwan is now more solid than ever because the leaders over there do not have any fantasies about China.”

The Solomons, where only about 50% of the population have access to electricity, is heavily reliant on foreign aid.

A Solomons delegation, which includes six ministers, just visited China, and Wu said he had invited the nation’s leaders to travel to Taiwan as well.

He said Taiwan was working with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union to set up discussions with Pacific island nations about their aid needs.

Wu said he had a “friendly” and “frank” meeting with Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare at this month’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.

“I have no doubt that Taiwan’s relationship with the Solomon Islands will continue,” he said.

A decision on the Solomons’ diplomatic preference for Taiwan or China could come as soon as next month.