OUAGADOUGOU/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan lost its second diplomatic ally in less than a month on Thursday when Burkina Faso said it had cut ties with the self-ruled island, following intense Chinese pressure on African countries to break with what it regards as a wayward province.
Taiwan now has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa – the tiny kingdom of Swaziland - and formal relations with just 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru.
The Burkinabe foreign ministry’s statement made no direct mention of China, but said “the evolution of the world and the socio-economic challenges of our country and region push us to reconsider our position”.
Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference in Taipei, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not engage in “dollar diplomacy” and denounced Beijing’s methods.
“China toys with dollar diplomacy and promises huge sums of money to entice many countries to build relations,” Tsai said.
“I want to emphasise again that China’s pressure will only lead to Taiwan’s ties with its partners in the international community getting closer. We will not cower at all.”
Taiwan has accused China of luring its friends away with offers of generous aid packages. China denies this, and says Taiwan is a part of China with no right to formal diplomatic ties with any other country.
Speaking shortly before the president, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said he had offered his resignation to her.
Wu said that Taiwan cannot compete with China’s financial resources.
“I along with our country’s people feel sad, angry and regretful,” he said.
“China grabbing our allies and giving us pressure in the diplomatic space will not shrink the distance across the (Taiwan) strait and will not let cross-strait relations walk on a peaceful, friendly path.”
The finance ministry said it would immediately end its aid programmes in Burkina and that Taiwan would close its embassy there.
China’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement it welcomed Burkina to “join in China-Africa friendly cooperation as soon as possible”.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue.
China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai’s election as president in 2016, as Beijing fears she wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. She says she wants to maintain the status quo.
China is Africa’s largest trade partner, with massive investments in mining, construction and banking, though it has been less active to date in Burkina.
China is hosting a summit of African leaders in September in Beijing, where it will likely offer new pledges of aid and preferential loans.
In March, China said it was in the best interests of Taiwan’s allies to recognise an “irresistible trend” and ditch Taipei in favour of “one China” ruled by Beijing.
Burkina is the fourth country to cut ties with Taiwan since Tsai came to office, following the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe and Panama.
The Vatican is possibly next, as the Holy See and China edge closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops there.
Taiwan says the Republic of China, its official name, is a sovereign country with the right to develop relations with other countries.
Some countries have switched back and forth between Beijing and Taipei several times.
This is the second time Burkina has cut ties with Taiwan. It last did so in 1973, before resuming relations with Taipei in 1994.
Reporting By Thiam Ndiaga and Jessica Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Nick Macfie