After the Solomon Islands broke ties with Taiwan on September 16, there was widespread speculation that it could lead other, smaller Pacific island nations — five of whom are among Taiwan’s 16 remaining allies — to follow suit. The islands that remain Taiwan’s diplomatic partners are Tuvalu, Palau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru, per the brief guide to China and the Pacific island nations published last year on SupChina Access.
Kiribati may be next. Jessica Drun posted on Twitter a “letter circulating online among Kiribatians, written in Kiribati, purporting that the country plans to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China.”
Well-connected Taiwanese Facebook friend finds this letter circulating online among Kiribatians, written in #Kiribati, purporting that the country plans to switch diplomatic relations from #Taiwan to #China. Says a former student of his, now at ROC MOFA, has validated this 1/ pic.twitter.com/ozOX71nZ1r
— Jessica Drun (@jessicadrun) September 19, 2019
Tuvalu may also be considering a switch. The Taipei Times reports that Taiwan’s “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday said it is closely following developments in Tuvalu after the election of a new prime minister, Kausea Natano, sparking concern that Taiwan might face another diplomatic crisis.”
Taiwan’s ambassador to Tuvalu, Marc Su (蘇仁崇 Sū Rénchóng), expressed confidence:
“This country is OK — there won’t be any effect,” Su said, adding that Taiwan had good relationships in Tuvalu from “grassroots to top level.”
However, good personal relations and public sentiment may just not be very important compared with Beijing’s influence and willingness to shell out cash. In the Solomon Islands, for instance, Little Red Podcast co-host Graeme Smith interviewed numerous stakeholders before the switch, and came away convinced that outside of a few loud pro-China MPs, almost no one was enthusiastic about ditching Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands government faces a grassroots backlash from its diplomatic switch. Reuters reports that residents of one island, Malaita, are even protesting “to become independent from Solomon Islands government to manage our own affairs.”