MANAGUA: Nicaragua on Thursday (Dec 9) broke its longstanding diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching allegiance to Beijing in a recognition of the Chinese Communist party's One China policy and reducing Taipei's dwindling pool of international allies.
"The government of the Republic of Nicaragua today breaks diplomatic relations with Taiwan and ceases to have any contact or official relationship," the foreign ministry said in a statement issued in Spanish and English.
"The government of the Republic of Nicaragua declares that it recognises that in the world there is only one single China. The People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all of China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory," it added.
China's Foreign Ministry, announcing the decision after meetings with Nicaragua's finance minister and two of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's sons in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, said the country had made the "correct choice" which conformed to "people's aspirations".
Taiwan responded quickly, expressing "pain and regret" at the decision, and said that Ortega had disregarded the friendship between the peoples of Taiwan and Nicaragua.
But Taiwan's government also expressed defiance.
"As a member of the international community, Taiwan has the right to exchange and develop diplomatic relations with other countries," its foreign ministry said.
Taiwan will continue to promote "pragmatic diplomacy" to expand its international space, and strive to achieve Taiwan's "due international status".
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said they would not bow to pressure or change their determination to uphold democracy and freedom and "march towards the world".
"The more successful Taiwan's democracy is, the stronger the international support, and the greater the pressure from the authoritarian camp," she said in Taipei.
A senior Taiwan official familiar with the matter told Reuters the timing was "provocative", coming during the Biden administration's Summit for Democracy, which Taiwan is attending, and a week before four referendums on the island, although they are on domestic issues like energy and pork imports.
At the now-defunct Nicaraguan embassy in Taipei, in a building in the leafy suburb of Tianmu, staff said the former ambassador was not in. Nicaragua's flag outside had been removed by the time a Reuters reporter arrived mid-morning.
China says Taiwan is one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a state, and has stepped up pressure to win away Taiwan's remaining allies.
China's ambassador at the United Nations, Zhang Jun, congratulated Nicaragua.
"We highly commend the right decision made by the Government of Nicaragua, which is in line with the prevailing trend of the time and people's aspiration," he said in a tweet. "The One-China principle is a consensus widely accepted by the international community and allows no challenge."
The break with Taiwan is a blow to the United States.
It follows months of worsening ties between Ortega and Washington, and came on the day the US State Department said it had slapped sanctions on Nestor Moncada Lau, a national security adviser to Ortega, alleging he operates an import and customs fraud scheme to enrich members of Ortega's government.
The US State Department said Nicaragua's decision did not reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people because its government was not freely elected.
"We do know, however, that this deprives Nicaragua's people of a steadfast partner in its democratic and economic growth," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
"We encourage all countries that value democratic institutions, transparency, the rule of law, and promoting economic prosperity for their citizens to expand engagement with Taiwan."
Last month US President Joe Biden ripped into Ortega, calling Nicaragua's presidential election a "pantomime" as the former Marxist guerrilla and Cold War adversary of the United States won election for a fourth consecutive term.
One Taiwan-based diplomatic source, familiar with the region, said the move was not a surprise given Washington's lack of leverage with Ortega due to the sanctions, and that looking to China for aid and support was a natural course of action.
"It appears that Ortega had had enough," the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ortega first cut ties with Taiwan in 1985, but they were re-established with the island in 1990 under then-Nicaraguan President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.
The move leaves Taiwan with just 14 formal diplomatic allies, most of them in Latin America and the Caribbean, plus a handful of small states.
It also follows threats by the incoming leaders of Honduras to break with Taipei. However, since the Honduran election last month, the team around incoming President Xiomara Castro has rowed back from that position somewhat.
Before Nicaragua, Taiwan lost two allies in quick succession in September of 2019, when the Solomon Islands and Kiribati went over to Beijing.