On September 16, the Cabinet of the Solomon Islands voted to switch its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, ending its 36-year-old official relationship with Taiwan. Kiribati switched three days later. This quick succession of diplomatic losses dropped Taipei’s formal diplomatic partners to 15.
While the switch by the Solomon Islands was a long time coming – China is its largest export market by a large margin, and investment, tourist, and cultural links with China have dwarfed those with Taiwan – it represents the reality of Beijing’s successes in campaigning against Taiwan’s status in the international system. Since Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, China has chiseled away six of Taiwan’s partners from Africa, Central America, and the South Pacific.
The switch by the Solomon Islands is highly significant for Taiwan, but other actors including the United States and its alliance partners in the Pacific are also deeply impacted. The Solomon Islands are strategically located and contain several deep-water ports, which means they could be used to directly challenge the activities of the United States and its partners in the region. With its diplomatic switch, a continuous strip of exclusive economic zones of China’s diplomatic partners runs more than 8,500 kilometers from Taiwan southeast to Tonga, jutting into the post-World War II spheres of influence of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and France.