China warns of action after Pompeo says Taiwan not part of China

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China will strike back against any moves that undermine its core interests, its foreign ministry said on Friday, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Taiwan “has not been a part of China.”

China calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States, and has been angered by the Trump administration’s stepped up support for the Chinese-claimed yet democratically ruled island, such as arms sales.

Speaking in a U.S. radio interview on Thursday, Pompeo said: “Taiwan has not been a part of China”.

“That was recognized with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for three-and-a-half decades,” he said.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and officially only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of it, rather than explicitly recognizing China’s claims.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Taiwan was an inalienable part of China and that Pompeo was further damaging Sino-U.S. ties.

“We solemnly tell Pompeo and his ilk, that any behavior that undermines China’s core interests and interferes with China’s domestic affairs will be met with a resolute counterattack by China,” he said, without elaborating.

China has put sanctions on U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan, and flew fighter jets near the island when senior U.S. officials visited Taipei this year.

The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after loosing a civil war to the communists, who founded the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman, Joanne Ou, thanked Pompeo for his support.

“The Republic of China on Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country, and not part of the People’s Republic of China. This is a fact and the current situation,” she said.

Taiwan officials will travel to Washington next week for economic talks, which have also annoyed Beijing.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Taiwan military says it has right to counter attack amid China threats

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan said on Monday its armed forces have the right to self-defense and counter attack amid “harassment and threats,” in an apparent warning to China, which last week sent numerous jets across the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Tensions have sharply spiked in recent months between Taipei and Beijing, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Chinese aircraft crossed the mid-line to enter the island’s air defense identification zone on Friday and Saturday, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept them, and President Tsai Ing-wen to call China a threat to the region.

In a statement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had “clearly defined” procedures for the island’s first response amid “high frequency of harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and aircraft this year”.

It said Taiwan had the right to “self-defenses and to counter attack” and followed the guideline of “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents”.

Taiwan would not provoke, but it was also “not afraid of the enemy”, it added.

MID-LINE “DOES NOT EXIST”

Taiwanese and Chinese combat aircraft normally observe the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and do not cross it, although there is no official agreement between Taipei and Beijing on doing so, and the rule is observed unofficially.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing. “The so-called mid-line of the Strait does not exist.”

Since 2016 Taiwan has reported only five Chinese incursions across the line, including the two last week.

Late on Monday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft had flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – but not over the mid-line – to the island’s southwest, and were warned away by Taiwanese fighters.

The drills came as Beijing expressed anger at the visit of a senior U.S. official to Taipei.

On Monday, the official China Daily newspaper said the United States was trying to use Taiwan to contain China but nobody should underestimate its determination to assert its sovereignty over the island.

“The U.S. administration should not be blinkered in its desperation to contain the peaceful rise of China and indulge in the U.S. addiction to its hegemony,” it said in an editorial.

China has been angered by stepped-up U.S. support for Taiwan, including two visits in as many months by top officials, one in August by Health Secretary Alex Azar and the other last week by Keith Krach, undersecretary for economic affairs.

The United States, which has no official diplomatic ties with the island but is its strongest international backer, is also planning major new arms sales to Taiwan.

China this month held rare large-scale drills near Taiwan, which Taipei called serious provocation. China said the exercise was a necessity to protect its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Gabriel Crossly in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the mid-line of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defense ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait mid-line.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the mid-line.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defense secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Taiwan denounces large-scale Chinese drills near island

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan denounced China on Thursday over large-scale air and naval drills off its southwestern coast which it called a serious provocation and a threat to international air traffic.

It urged Beijing to rein in its armed forces.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own, has stepped up military exercises near the island, in what Taipei views as intimidation to force it to accept Chinese rule.

Yeh Kuo-hui, from Taiwan’s defense ministry’s operations and planning department, told a hastily-arranged news conference that China’s intentions could not be predicted.

“We must make all preparations for war readiness,” Yeh said, following a news briefing from senior officers describing the Chinese activities over the last two days, and showing a map of Chinese movements.

The drills took place in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands, the ministry said. Taiwan says China sent advanced Su-30 and J-10 fighters to participate.

Taiwan Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said the drills threatened regional stability and endangered international aviation, he said.

“We once again say, do not underestimate the military’s determination to defend our home. We are confident and capable of defending the country,” Chang said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the government had shared “information related to China’s threat to key friendly nations”, a likely reference to the United States, Taiwan’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment. China has held numerous military exercises up and down its coast and near the island in recent weeks.

Taiwan has this week been carrying out live-fire weapons tests off its southeast and eastern coast.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has warned of a rising risk of accidental conflict, saying communication must be maintained to cut the risk of miscalculation.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage)

After WHO setback, Taiwan president to press for global participation

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will strive to actively participate in global bodies despite its failure to attend this week’s key World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, and will not accept being belittled by China, President Tsai Ing-wen will say on Wednesday.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, vowing to stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.

China views Tsai, who will be sworn into office for her second and final term on Wednesday, as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan. She says Taiwan is already an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name.

Tsai will say at her inauguration that Taiwan will seek to “actively participate” in international bodies and deepen its cooperation with like-minded countries, generally a reference to the United States and its allies, according to an outline of her speech provided by Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang.

Taiwan sees the need for participation in WHO as all the more urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in China.

Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations like the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.

Despite an intense lobbying effort and strong support from the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and others, it was unable to take part in this week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly.

On relations with China, Tsai will reiterate her commitment to peace, dialogue and equality, but that Taiwan will not accept China’s “one country, two systems” model that “belittles” Taiwan.

China uses this system, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, to run the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered it to Taiwan too, though all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.

Tsai will also pledge to speed up the development of “asymmetric warfare” capabilities, and boost renewable technologies in a move to position Taiwan as a hub of clean energy in the Asia Pacific.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Taiwan school uses dividers during lunch to counter coronavirus

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A school in Taiwan’s capital Taipei is going to unusual lengths to protect its students from the coronavirus – putting up bright yellow dividers on their desks during lunch to reduce their risk of infection while eating.

While a growing number of countries have suspended classes until further notice to try and slow the spread of the virus, Taiwan’s schools are operating as normal, albeit with heightened bio-security measures.

Taiwan has won plaudits from experts for the way it has controlled the virus, and has only reported 50 cases, compared with more than 80,000 in its giant neighbor China. However the island is on high alert to ensure the virus is contained.

Students at the Dajia Elementary School are asked to disinfect their shoes and hands before entering the school’s premises, while a security guard takes their temperature.

What sets the school apart, though, is the bright yellow dividers erected on their desks at lunchtime when students take off the surgical masks they have to wear during class in order to eat.

“Schools have to make the most comprehensive preparations,” said school headmaster Li Chung-hui, who first came up with the idea to make dividers from affordable corrugated plastic board. One divider costs less than T$50 ($1.66).

The students don’t seem too fazed about having to eat behind the dividers.

“I think that we can prevent bacteria from coming close,” said Tu Yu-chieh, 6.

(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

Taiwan says U.S. flies bombers near island after China’s drills

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Three U.S. Air Force planes, including two B-52 bombers, flew near Taiwan on Wednesday, the island’s defense ministry said, after Taiwan’s air force scrambled earlier in the week to intercept Chinese jets.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer, even in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, and is also the island’s main source of arms.

Tensions spiked between Taiwan and China, which claims the island as its own, on Sunday and Monday, as Taiwan sent F-16s to shadow approaching Chinese bombers and fighters.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said one U.S. MC-130, a special mission aircraft based on the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, flew down the Taiwan Strait in a southerly direction on Wednesday.

The two U.S. B-52 bombers skirted Taiwan’s east coast, also in a southerly direction, the ministry added.

The U.S. Air Force has a major base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, which is near Taiwan.

Speaking in Singapore, a senior U.S. State Department official, Clarke Cooper, referred to the Chinese flights and told CNBC it was “completely inappropriate of China to take such an aggressive act.”

“That aggressive act is not just a reflection on China’s relationship with Taiwan, it certainly is reflective about how China may be looking at the entire region in total,” said Cooper, the assistant secretary for political-military affairs.

On Tuesday, a State Department spokeswoman said China should “immediately cease its coercive efforts” and resume dialogue with Taipei.

China has described its exercises on Sunday and Monday as actions to guard national sovereignty.

It has been flying what it calls “island encirclement” drills since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island’s formal independence.

Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Taiwan has urged China to focus its efforts on fighting the new coronavirus rather than menacing the island.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that China’s military activities had only caused anger on the island and harmed the peaceful development of relations across the strait.

“Our government will continue to adopt a pragmatic and restrained stance, prudently handle cross-strait relations, and deepen cooperation with countries with similar ideals, including the United States, in response to the rising Chinese military threat,” she added.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard in Taipei and David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Catherine Evans, Andrew Cawthorne and Paul Simao)

Taiwan again scrambles jets to intercept Chinese planes, tensions spike

By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s air force scrambled for a second day in a row on Monday to intercept Chinese jets that approached the island claimed by Beijing as its own, as tensions between the two took on a potentially dangerous military dimension.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said Chinese jets, accompanying H-6 bombers, briefly crossed an unofficial mid-line in the Taiwan Strait that separates the two, prompting its air force to rush to intercept and give verbal warnings to leave.

The Chinese aircraft then withdrew to the western side of the line, the ministry added, without identifying the jets.

The H-6s were on a training mission in the Pacific having passed through the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, the ministry added and shared a picture of a Taiwan F-16 accompanying one of the H-6 bombers.

China has been flying what it calls “island encirclement” drills on-off since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first took office. Beijing believes Tsai, who won re-election last month, wishes to push the island’s formal independence.

Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

On Sunday too, Chinese jets, including J-11 fighters, flew into the Bashi Channel then out into the Pacific before heading back to base via the Miyako Strait, located between Japan’s islands of Miyako and Okinawa, to the northeast of Taiwan.

According to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, the F-16s scrambled on Sunday carried live missiles.

There was no immediate comment from China on Monday’s incident. This is only the second time since 2016 that Taiwan has said that Chinese jets had crossed the strait’s median line. Their military aircraft tend to keep to their own sides.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, though, urged Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) “not to play with fire”.

The DPP have been “adopting a stance that increases cross-strait confrontation, intensifying new moves for Taiwan-U.S. collusion, using the opportunity to seek independence and openly carrying out dangerous provocations”, it added.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command described Sunday’s fly-by of military’s combat ready patrol as a “completely legitimate and necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and safeguarding national sovereignty”.

TAIWAN-BEIJING TENSIONS

The latest fly-bys came as Taiwan’s vice-president elect, William Lai, was returning from a visit to Washington, where he attended the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast, at which U.S. President Donald Trump spoke. China denounced Lai’s trip.

Washington is Taipei’s most important backer and arms supplier, despite the absence of official diplomatic ties.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in its relations with the United States.

Relations between the Taipei and Beijing have further soured recently over the coronavirus outbreak, with Taiwan accusing China of preventing the island from accessing full information from the World Health Organization or attending its meetings.

China should focus on controlling the spread of the virus, rather than threatening Taiwan, Tsai said on Monday.

Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council said the island’s 23 million people would not bow down to threats.

“In recent years, Communist aircraft and warships have frequented the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait and attempted to use arms to force unification,” it said.

“Various provocative acts have seriously damaged the status quo of the Taiwan Strait and have increased regional tensions.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Don’t read too much into election results, Taiwan tells China before vote

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Beijing should not see Taiwan’s elections as representing a win or loss for China, Taiwan’s foreign minister said on Thursday, days ahead of a vote overshadowed by Chinese efforts to get the island to accept its rule.

Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday. Its elections are always closely watched by China, which claims the island as its territory.

Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and the government has warned of Beijing’s efforts to sway the vote in favor of the opposition.

“I just don’t think China should read Taiwan’s election as its own victory or defeat,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei.

“If China reads too much into our election … there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan.”

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, has repeatedly warned Taiwan’s people to be wary of Chinese attempts to sway the election through disinformation or military intimidation, an accusation China denies.

Wu drew attention to China’s sailing of its new aircraft carrier into the sensitive Taiwan Strait late last year, calling the voyage “clear” evidence of Beijing’s attempts to intimidate voters.

“This is our own election. This is not China’s election. It is Taiwanese people who go to the voting booth to make a judgment on which candidate or political party is better for them,” Wu said.

“If China wants to play with democracies in other countries so much, maybe they can try with their own elections at some point.”

The issue of China has taken center stage in the campaign, especially after its president, Xi Jinping, warned last year it could attack Taiwan, though said he’d prefer a peaceful “one country, two systems” formula to rule the island.

Taiwan-China ties have soured since Tsai took office in 2016, with China cutting off formal dialogue, flying bomber patrols around Taiwan, and whittling away at its diplomatic allies.

China suspects Tsai of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she will maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and way of life.

‘EVERY BALLOT HAS POWER’

In a front-page election advertisement in the mass circulation Liberty Times on Thursday, Tsai appealed directly for people to cast their vote against China.

“In the face of China, every ballot has power,” the advertisement read, next to a picture of Tsai wearing a camouflaged military helmet and flak jacket.

Tsai’s main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949, when it was forced to flee to Taiwan after loosing a civil war with the Communists.

Han says he would reset ties with Beijing to boost Taiwan’s economy, but not compromise on the island’s security or democratic way of life.

In a Facebook post later on Thursday, Tsai wrote that China would be happiest if the Kuomintang got back into power.

“The elections should make Taiwan’s people happy, not the Chinese government,” she added.

But Kuomintang Chairman Wu Den-yih said Tsai was the real threat, pointing to an anti-infiltration law she championed and passed late last year to tackle Chinese influence. The Kuomintang says the law seeks to effectively outlaw all contacts with China.

“Don’t let Tsai Ing-wen destroy the Republic of China’s democracy, liberty and rule of law; just take down Tsai Ing-wen,” the party cited Wu Den-yih as saying, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

Overshadowing the elections have been allegations in Australian media from a self-professed Chinese spy about China’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s politics and support Han, who, along with Beijing, has denounced the accusations as lies.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Taiwan says China meddling with elections after Solomon Islands cuts ties

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan accused China on Monday of trying to influence its presidential and legislative elections after the Solomon Islands cut off ties with Taipei.

The Solomon Islands was the sixth country to switch allegiance to China since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan in 2016. Its decision on Monday dealt her a new blow in her struggle to secure re-election in January amid criticism of her handling of Beijing and rising tension with China.

Self-ruled Taiwan now has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

China claims Taiwan as its territory and says it has no right to formal ties with any nation.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Tsai said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure, describing the Solomon Islands’ decision as new evidence that Beijing is trying to meddle in the January elections.

“Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space,” Tsai said, calling the Chinese move “a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order.”

“I want to emphasize that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said Taipei would immediately close its embassy in the Solomon Islands and recall all its diplomats.

“The Chinese government attacked Taiwan purposely before our presidential and legislative elections, obviously aiming to meddle with the voting. The government strongly condemns this and urges people to hold on to its sovereignty and the value of freedom and democracy,” said Wu, whose resignation was rejected by Tsai.

“Taiwan has never bowed to pressure from one single setback, and it won’t be defeated by this blow,” Wu said, urging support from allies in the region to defend Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

“AT ANY COST”

China has been trying to secure allies from Taiwan, and Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama and El Salvador had already cut off ties with Taipei.

Beijing has stepped up pressure to squeeze the island, which have included regular Chinese bomber patrols around Taiwan, since Tsai took office. China suspects Tsai of pushing for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

Tsai said the Chinese move could be an “attempt to divert attention” from months of protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, and that China was forcing Taiwan to accept a formula similar to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” arrangement, which guarantees certain freedoms.

“I am confident that the 23 million people of Taiwan have this to say in response: not a chance.”

A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters Beijing had issued an “urgent order” to secure the Solomon Islands’ allegiance “at any cost” on Sunday night, and called it a move to distract domestic attention from the Hong Kong issue before the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China on Oct. 1.

The protests in Hong Kong pose the biggest challenge for Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

The source said the rupture in ties had prompted expressions of concern from countries including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, who had been involved in efforts to help Taiwan secure ties with the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands’ decision followed a months-long review of the pros and cons of a switch to Beijing, which was offering $8.5 million in development funds to replace support from Taiwan.

In a cabinet vote on Monday, there were 27 votes to shift ties and six abstentions, creating an “overwhelming” majority, a Solomon Islands member of parliament told Reuters. The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to questions.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blencher in BEIJING and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Editing by Timothy Heritage)