Gambia breaks relations with surprised Taiwan

Gambia is the first diplomatic ally to break with Taiwan since relations between China and Taiwan began to thaw four years ago.

Pichi Chuang/Reuters
Gambia's national flag is displayed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei November 15, 2013. Gambia's government will cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan with immediate effect, a statement from Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh's office said on Thursday.

The West African nation of Gambia has cut off relations with a surprised Taiwan, but China says it had no prior contact with the Gambian government on the diplomacy issue.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and until Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office 5 ½ years ago, the two sides competed furiously to win diplomatic allies, frequently by offering monetary and other material incentives to wavering countries.

Since then, however, no defections from Taiwan have occurred amid widespread reports of a diplomatic truce between Beijing and Taipei. During Ma's first four-year term in office, at least two Latin American countries cancelled plans to transfer recognition from Taiwan to the mainland after what appeared to be Chinese intervention.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday that Beijing was caught unaware by the Gambian move, strongly suggesting that the purported diplomatic truce remains in effect.

"We learned the relevant information from the foreign media," Hong said. "Before that, China was not in contact with Gambia."

Hong declined to respond to a question on whether China intended to establish formal relations with Banjul. China almost invariably climbs into the void when countries break their ties with Taipei.

With the loss of Gambia, Taiwan is now recognized by 22 countries, mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the south Pacific. Swaziland, Sao Tome and Principe and Burkina Faso are its only remaining diplomatic allies in Africa.

China is recognized by more than 200 countries.

At a briefing in Taipei, Foreign Ministry official Ko Sen-yao stressed that Taiwan had been taken by surprise by the Gambian move and said it appeared to reflect a personal decision by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Ko did not elaborate.

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