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US: Nauru’s Decision to Break with Taiwan ‘Disappointing’

A pole, third from right, where Nauru national flag used to fly is vacant outside the Diplomatic Quarter building in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. The Pacific Island nation of Nauru says it is switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.
A pole, third from right, where Nauru national flag used to fly is vacant outside the Diplomatic Quarter building in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. The Pacific Island nation of Nauru says it is switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

The United States said Monday that the government of Nauru’s severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan is “disappointing,” despite it being a sovereign decision.

The Pacific Island nation announced its decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China shortly after Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections.

“Taiwan is a reliable, like-minded, and democratic partner. The PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic relations that ultimately remain unfulfilled,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement late Monday. He was referring to People’s Republic of China.

Miller added: “We encourage all countries to expand engagement with Taiwan and to continue to support democracy, good governance, transparency, and adherence to the rule of law.”

The Republic of Nauru “will no longer recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a separate country but rather as an inalienable part of China’s territory,” said the Nauru government in an official statement on Monday.

In Beijing, Chinese officials praised the move.

“China appreciates and welcomes the decision of the government of the Republic of Nauru,” said Mao Ning who is a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The Nauru government’s decision of reestablishing diplomatic ties with China once again shows that the one-China principle is where global opinion trends” are, said Mao.

She repeated China’s assertion that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory” during a briefing Monday.

Implications to the U.S. policy towards the Pacific Islands

Nauru is one of the members of the Pacific Islands Forum, or PIF, the premier political and economic policy-making body for the region. It comprises 18 member states, with Australia and New Zealand being the largest economies in the bloc. Neither the United States nor China is a full member.

Last September, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted leaders from this Pacific Islands bloc at a two-day summit in Washington, amid rising U.S. concerns about China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.

The shift in Nauru’s position means the next Pacific Islands Forum secretary general will be from a country that recognizes the government in Beijing, rather than the government in Taipei.

Some analysts believe Nauru’s move could make it more challenging for the PIF to resist overtures from China.

Last November, former Nauru President Baron Waqa was selected as the next PIF Secretary General, at a time when Nauru still maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Waqa has reportedly resisted China’s pressure in the past. It remains to be seen whether he will continue as the PIF Secretary General.

According to Cleo Paskal, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, or FDD, Chinese offers to Nauru have been present for years, and the specifics of this deal were likely finalized before the Taiwan elections.

She suggested that Beijing might have delayed the announcement until after the Taiwan elections to “reinforce” the PRC’s narrative.

"U.S. policy in the Pacific Islands is not shining at the moment,” Paskal told VOA.

“Nauru has been asking for help with things like developing its port and protecting its waters for years - things that would help regional security as well. The longer they wait, the more room for PRC operatives to say 'they aren't coming, you should cut the deal in front of you now, with us'. The window for U.S. relevance is closing.”

UN resolution 2758

Monday, the State Department said the United States will continue to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the international community and deepen economic ties, consistent with Washington’s longstanding One China policy.

The U.S. does not take a position on Taiwan's sovereignty. Under Washington's One China policy, the U.S. acknowledges Beijing's claims of sovereignty over Taiwan but does not endorse them.

Washington and Taipei have held regular consultations to explore Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations system and other international forums, to address a range of global challenges, including public health, aviation safety and climate change.

In Beijing, Chinese spokesperson Mao Ning said, “There is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” citing United Nations resolution 2758.

On October 25, 1971, the U.N. General Assembly passed U.N. Resolution 2758, which replaced the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan’s formal name) with the People's Republic of China (PRC) as a permanent member of the Security Council in the United Nations.

While the resolution stated the representatives of the PRC government were the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, it neither determined Taiwan’s status nor said Taiwan was part of China.

The PRC's efforts to rewrite Taiwan's status at the United Nations intensified during the 1990s and early 2000s, coinciding with the island's democratization, according to an analysis by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.