China said Wednesday it welcomed Sao Tome and Principe’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a move that comes as US President-elect Donald Trump questions Washington’s policy towards the self-ruled island.
The small west African nation suspended ties with China in 1997, when it chose to officially recognise Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.
Beijing has repeatedly asserted its belief that there is only “one China” and that the island remains part of its territory awaiting reunification.
Tensions between the mainland and what it refers to as a “renegade province” have heightened since president Tsai Ing-wen, who leads Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in May.
Adding fuel to that fire, Trump angered Beijing with comments earlier this month suggesting he could use recognition of the island as a bargaining chip to extract trade deals from China.
“We welcome Sao Tome and Principe back onto the correct path of the one China principle,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
“Persisting in the one China principle is the direction of international popular sentiment and an irresistible trend,” it added.
Sao Tome’s decision leaves Taiwan with formal diplomatic ties to only 21 states, including just two in Africa — Swaziland and Burkina Faso.
It also has relations with the Vatican, its most high profile supporter.
Foreign Ministry: China appreciates São Tomé and Príncipe's decision to cut so-called "diplomatic" ties with Taiwan pic.twitter.com/J54061vDu8
— CCTVNEWS (@cctvnews) December 21, 2016
Sao Tome’s decision follows a precedent shattering congratulatory phone call from Tsai to Trump, which angered Beijing.
The billionaire politician further raised the temperature among the Chinese leadership by publicly questioning US reluctance to recognise Taiwan.
“I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he told Fox News earlier this month.
Tsai is preparing for a trip next month to meet with diplomatic allies in Latin America, where she is expected to pass through the US, which may irk China.