WASHINGTON – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has canceled plans to meet with the leader of the Solomon Islands to discuss development partnerships after the Pacific nation cut ties with Taiwan in favor of China on Monday, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands was the sixth country to switch allegiance to China since 2016. Self-ruled Taiwan has accused China — which claims Taiwan as its territory — of trying to meddle in its upcoming elections.
Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had in July asked Pence for a meeting, the official said. The meeting was to have taken place this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York or afterward in Washington.
“But the decision by the Solomon Islands to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China has consequences. They’re hurting a historically strong relationship by doing this,” the official said. “It’s a setback, and it’s prioritizing short-term gain with China over long-term commitment with the U.S.”
The United States — which has a fraught relationship with China over trade, defense and technology issues — upholds the “one-China” policy, officially recognizing Beijing and not Taipei but still assisting Taiwan.
Washington and Beijing are embroiled in a trade war, slapping tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods. The United States is also pushing to restrict Chinese state-owned telecommunication companies over concerns about espionage.
President Donald Trump’s administration is also considering confronting China over its detention of some 1 million Muslims in remote Xinjiang province at next week’s U.N. meeting.
Pence has criticized China for what he calls “debt-trap” lending practices to small countries, pushing them into debt and compromising their sovereignty.
“Countries that establish closer ties to China primarily out of the hope or expectation that such a step will stimulate economic growth and infrastructure development often find themselves worse off in the long run,” the U.S. official said.
After the Solomon Islands decision, Taiwan has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less-developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.
The Solomons, a former British protectorate that is home to about 600,000 people, had been the largest of the Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, with access to airfields and deepwater ports dating back to World War II.
After his July phone call with Pence, Sogavare sent him a letter, saying he was “favorably disposed” to ask his Cabinet to defer a decision on its Taiwan ties until later in the year.
Sogavare emphasized that he needs help from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan to develop infrastructure — a critical domestic issue for his government — according to a copy of the letter reviewed by Reuters. “It is the one agenda that has the potential to split the cabinet and could potentially cause the government to fall,” Sogavare said in the letter.
Beijing said on Tuesday that the Solomon Islands would have unprecedented development opportunities after cutting ties with Taiwan.
China had offered $8.5 million in development funds to the Solomons ahead of its decision.