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September 20, 2017

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'Domino effect' possible after Panama cuts ties: analysts

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taipei must guard against a possible "domino effect" on the diplomatic front as China steps up its suppression of Taiwan internationally, analysts said on Tuesday.

According to ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), who is an expert in international relations, the severing of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Panama represents a "heavy blow" masterminded in Beijing.

Although it has long been rumored that Panama was considering switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, he described the development as the result of a "political decision" by China.

Such a move is particularly significant because Panama was a long-time ally of Taiwan in Central America and could lead to a "domino effect," he said.

Agreeing with Lo, Cheng Yu-chin (鄭宇欽), director of the EU-China Economics and Politics Institute in Czechia (Czech Republic), said the defection of Panama leaves Taiwan with only 20 diplomatic allies and could result in a further fall in the nation's allies, perhaps to as low as zero.

Before formally establishing relations with Panama, China maintained close economic and trade ties with the country for a long time, a strategy that demonstrated to the people of Panama that making friends with China would boost economic development and prosperity, Cheng said.

To consolidate Taiwan's relations with diplomatic allies, Taipei needs to persuade local people that it is important to their economic development, he said.

Panama's Vice President Isabel Saint Malo signed a joint communiqué with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) in Beijing on Tuesday, formally establishing diplomatic relations, in which Panama stressed that it would not maintain any official ties with Taiwan.

The move was widely seen as part of China's mounting efforts to isolate Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) from the Democratic Progressive Party took office on May 20, 2016. The new government has adopted a less conciliatory attitude toward Beijing than its predecessor.

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