SOURCE: Reuters news agency
US Vice President Mike Pence has declined to meet the leader of the Solomon Islands to discuss development partnerships after the Pacific island cut ties with Taiwan in favour of China this week, a senior United States official said on Tuesday.
The Solomon Islands was the sixth country to switch allegiance to China since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan in 2016.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands had asked Pence in July for a meeting, the senior administration official told Reuters, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The meeting was to have taken place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in New York, or afterwards in Washington, DC.
'The decision by the Solomon Islands to change its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China has consequences,' the official said. 'They're hurting a historically strong relationship by doing this.
'It's a setback, and it's prioritising short-term gain with China over long-term commitment with the US.'
The US upholds what is known as the 'one-China' policy, officially recognising Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.
Pence and other officials in President Donald Trump's administration have criticised China for what they call 'debt-trap' lending practices to small countries, pushing them into debt. China denies those charges.
'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 US official told Reuters.
Following the Solomon Islands's decision, Taiwan has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less-developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.
The Solomon Islands was the largest of the Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, recognising the territory since 1983 and providing 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 'favourably disposed' to ask his Cabinet to defer a decision on its Taiwan ties until later in the year.
Sogavare emphasised that he needed help from the US, 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.
Beijing said on Tuesday that the Solomon Islands would have unprecedented development opportunities after cutting ties with Taiwan.
The Solomons, a former British protectorate that is home to about 600,000 people, had been looking into a possible switch in ties since a general election in April.