Nauru Switches Ties From Taipei to Beijing

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Nauru Switches Ties From Taipei to Beijing

In the immediate aftermath of Taiwan’s elections, in which the DPP retained the presidency, Nauru announced its decision to establish diplomatic relations with China. 

Nauru Switches Ties From Taipei to Beijing

President Tsai welcomed then-Republic of Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa with full military honors during a 2017 visit.

Credit: Taiwan Presidential Office

Pacific politics recently has draw considerable attention, and Monday was no exception with Nauru opting to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and align itself with China less than 48 hours after the Taiwanese elections. 

In a move likely to reverberate around the region, the small Pacific Island became the first nation to change allegiance toward Beijing since Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) triumphed in polls over the weekend. 

In a statement on Monday evening, the Nauru government led by President David Adeang announced its decision, stating it was “in the best interests” of the nation that they resume full diplomatic ties with Beijing.

A post on the Nauru government’s official Facebook page, stated: “[W]e will be moving to the One-China Principle that is in line with UN Resolution 2758 which recognizes the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the sole legal Government representing the whole of China and seeking resumption of full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

“This means that 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, and will sever ‘diplomatic relations’ with Taiwan as of this day and no longer develop any official relations or official exchanges with Taiwan.” 

The ambassador of Nauru to Taiwan, Jarden Kephas, was surprised at the announcement, stating he had “nothing to say.” 

“It was announced by my government, and I was told to pack up and go,” he said.

The decision was met with disbelief in Taiwan. Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang immediately issued an end to diplomatic relations with Nauru in turn “to safeguard our national dignity,” while arguing Beijing had once again issued an “open challenge to the international order.”

“Taiwan has decided to terminate diplomatic relations with Nauru with immediate effect, end all bilateral cooperation projects, recall staff of its embassy and Technical Mission in Nauru, and demand that Nauru close its embassy in Taiwan,” a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) said. 

“At this particular time, when many democratic nations across the world are congratulating Taiwan on the smooth completion of its elections and on a victory for democracy, the Beijing authorities chose such a way to suppress Taiwan, which constitutes an attack on the order and stability of the international community.” 

Tien noted the timing of the decision was not a coincidence, arguing Beijing was deliberate in choosing a time that coincided with an election result that elevated to president a candidate they openly despise. He called the move “ambush-like” and an attempted move to “suffocate” Taiwan. 

“Taiwan did not bow to the pressure. We elected what we want to elect. That’s unbearable for them,” Tien said. He argued that China financially seduced nations to sever ties with Taiwan and align themselves with Beijing, using funds far in excess of what Taiwan provides its allies. 

“I think it’s a very good example for people around the world to see how they treat Taiwan.”

Along with military aggression in the seas around Taiwan, and economic coercion, China had convinced nine of Taiwan’s previous allies to switch diplomatic allegiances during the two terms of DPP leader and President Tsai Ing-wen. Nauru now becomes the tenth state peeled away from Taiwan since 2016, joining fellow Pacific Island countries Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which both made the switch in 2019.

The tiny Micronesian island’s defection from Taipei leaves just 12 countries continuing to maintain diplomatic relationships with Taiwan; many have come under increasing pressure to switch by Beijing, often through economically coercive measures. Countries – including the last nation to sever ties with Taiwan, Honduras – have been open about the role China’s promise of financial aid played in their own diplomatic switch. 

In the least surprising news, Beijing welcomed the move. A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision ends the “so-called diplomatic ties with the Taiwan authorities” in reaffirming their cordiality with China. 

“There is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China,” the spokesperson said. “The Nauru government’s decision of reestablishing diplomatic ties with China once again shows that the one-China principle is where global opinion trends and where the arc of history bends.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aligned Global Times said the decision reflected “the one-China principle is a prevailing consensus among the international community.” 

“The decision is also considered a slap in the face to some ill-intentioned moves made by very few U.S.-led Western countries aiming to turn the Taiwan question into an international topic and to continue playing ‘the Taiwan card’ in containing the Chinese mainland,” it said, quoting unnamed “experts.”

A significant move in the wake of the Taiwanese election by Beijing was predicted by Grant Wyeth, writing for The Diplomat recently. Wyeth argued that in the case of a successful Lai vote, Beijing “will feel the need to demonstrate its disapproval with a show of force.” It seems this initial move is diplomatic, rather than one of military posturing. 

Oceania’s largest economy, Australia, will look at the move with trepidation. The inability to stop the Solomon Islands from switching allegiance to China was seen as a diplomatic failure by previous Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Nauru has a controversial relationship with Canberra as it hosts the much criticized offshore detention facilities, which have witnessed significant abuse and neglect in what Amnesty International described as an “open-air prison.” 

Australia removed the last cohort of detainees off the island in the middle of 2023, before moving in a new cohort of asylum seekers toward the end of the year. 

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the decision to switch ties was linked to a funding shortfall related to Australia’s offshore detention facility, with Nauru reportedly asking Taipei for AU$125 million to “cover a financial shortfall left by the temporary closure” of the immigration detention center.

What is for certain is that Nauru’s decision will have repercussions throughout the region. Anna Powles, a Pacific security expert at Massey University in New Zealand, argued it will “go beyond the bilateral relationship between Nauru and China and extend to the Pacific Islands Forum.”

“The likelihood that Nauru would switch recognition from Taiwan to China has been on the cards for awhile; the speed with which Australia pursued the Falepili Agreement with Tuvalu last year reflected concerns that Tuvalu was under pressure to switch recognition to China – these concerns extended to Nauru,” she said on X.

Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Palau, are the only remaining Pacific Island countries to have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Nauru has said the change “in no way intended to affect our existing warm relationships with other countries.” This remains to be seen.