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China, Solomon Islands establish diplomatic relations

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and Solomon Islands' Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele look on during the signing of a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on September 21, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

China and the Solomon Islands have established formal diplomatic relations in a new sign of Beijing's growing international influence which has worried the United States.

Last week, Beijing announced its decision to foster ties with the Solomon Islands after the tiny South Pacific nation cut ties with Taiwan.

Kiribati also switched its recognition to Beijing, marking the second diplomatic defection in the strategically important Pacific in less than a week.

The defections are the latest setback for self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a province with no right to state-to-state ties. 

They have also angered Washington, which also only has official relations with China rather than Taiwan. The US has watched with growing alarm at China’s increasing influence in the Pacific.

Top Chinese diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi, who signed diplomatic ties with the Solomon Islands in Beijing, said the time was almost up for the rest of Taiwan’s friends.

Taiwan is now left with formal relations with just 15 countries, mostly small and poor nations in Latin America and the Pacific, including Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau.

“Now, there are only a handful of countries who have not yet established diplomatic relations with China. We believe more and more visionary people in these countries will speak up for justice in keeping with the overriding trend of the times,” Wang said.

He also issued a warning for Taiwan, whose President Tsai Ing-wen is gearing up for re-election in January.

“China must and will be reunified. Factually and legally, Taiwan island has been and will always remain an inalienable part of China’s territory. This status will not change, and is impossible to change,” Wang said.

Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which are small but strategically important islands, have been the latest countries to cut ties with Taiwan following Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama and El Salvador.

Solomon Islands' Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Jeremiah Manele said the decision to establish relations with China is "based on our national interests".

"The development challenges of my country are huge. We need a broader partnership with everyone, including the People's Republic of China," he said at a joint press conference with Wang. 

The United States has expressed dissatisfaction with Beijing's expanding political clout.

In a show of displeasure, US Vice President Mike Pence declined a request for a meeting by the Solomon Islands leader to discuss the small impoverished island's economic challenges.

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