TAIPEI – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen set off on Thursday on a three-nation South Pacific tour amid China’s growing influence in the region that has shrunk the island’s diplomatic outreach.
Tsai will be visiting Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands to strengthen diplomatic ties with the three of the island’s only 17 allies.
In Palau, Tsai will gift the authorities a patrol boat and also sign a maritime trade agreement, official sources told EFE.
In Nauru, the Taiwanese president is scheduled to deliver a speech in the parliament and is expected to attend an international meeting of women leaders in the Marshall Islands, the sources said.
The United States has supported Tsai’s visit to the South Pacific and has also allowed a stopover in the American territory of Hawaii on her way back.
Tsai’s visit comes at a time of growing diplomatic ties between Washington and Taipei and Taiwan’s larger role in the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States which is based on an agreement of cooperation signed earlier this week.
The South Pacific is home to six of the 17 allies of the self-ruled island.
China that maintains strained ties with the island and doesn’t recognize its sovereignty has been pumping aid and investment into the Pacific islands to expand its influence and possibly strip Taiwan of more of its friends.
Since 2016, five allies of Taiwan have opted to break diplomatic ties with the island in favor of China. These include Panama, Dominican Republic and El Salvador in Latin America where Beijing is also expanding its aid and investment diplomacy.
China believes that the island is its part under One China policy while Taiwan says that it is a sovereign nation.
Several Taiwanese allies in the Pacific have elections scheduled for this year.
In the Solomon Islands, several electoral candidates have suggested a relook into the country’s relations with Taipei to explore the possibilities of getting closer to China, raising concerns in Taipei.
The US, however, has sought to repel China’s influence in the Pacific and Latin America.
During the Micronesian Presidents’ summit in Palau between Feb. 20-22, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed his government’s commitment “to work closely with our Pacific partners and allies.”
“We are partners, neighbors, and friends. We welcome hearing from our partners in Micronesia on how we can be more effective in supporting the region. Our goal is to ensure our friends across Micronesia remain free to pursue policies that support their national sovereignty as well as their long-term security, economic development, and prosperity.”
Pompeo said the US respected and supported the decision of those nations who have decided to continue to support Taiwan.