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Taiwan braces for prospect of zero diplomatic allies

In this April 11, 2018 photo, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen attends a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

TAIPEI (Kyodo) -- As China increases efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, the self-ruled island is assessing the possibility of losing all 17 of its diplomatic allies that recognize Taipei instead of Beijing, an official said on Friday.

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang suggested in an interview with a radio program that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has been assessing all scenario probabilities, including losing all diplomatic allies.

El Salvador's Foreign Minister Carlos Castaneda, left, and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi shake hands at a signing ceremony to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between El Salvador and China at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, on Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

"I believe all possibilities and all scenarios have been considered and assessed," Huang said when asked whether the administration has ever discussed the possibility of having zero allies.

El Salvador switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing on Tuesday, leaving Taiwan with only 17 diplomatic allies, down from 23 a decade ago and 27 two decades ago.

It was the third country to break off diplomatic ties with Taiwan this year and the fifth country to do so since Tsai came to power in May 2016.

Tsai, who just returned from a state visit to Paraguay and Belize one day before the break in ties, said Thursday that the more China suppresses Taiwan, the more unified it will become and the more determined it will be to play a role in the international arena.

The White House issued a statement late Thursday, criticizing El Salvador's decision was made "in a non-transparent fashion."

"The El Salvadoran government's receptiveness to China's apparent interference in the domestic politics of a Western Hemisphere country is of grave concern to the United States, and will result in a reevaluation of our relationship with El Salvador," it said.

The White House added that the United States will continue to oppose China's "destabilization of the cross-Strait relationship and political interference in the Western Hemisphere."

Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington's representative office in Taipei in lieu of diplomatic ties, said Thursday that he was "deeply disappointed" by the latest development and that the United States "will continue to support Taiwan as it expands its significant global contributions and resists China's efforts to constrain its participation on the world stage."

However, not everyone in Taiwan is unhappy, with some activists hoping that mainland China's increased efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically will spur the island to formalize its independence.

Yu Shyi-kun, a former chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, suggested that even if Taiwan ends up with no diplomatic allies in its current manifestation as the Republic of China, an independent Taiwan could gain some.

"The fewer countries recognize the Republic of China, the more likely Taiwan's diplomatic allies will show up," he said.

Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split amid civil war in 1949.

Beijing which requires nations to first sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan before they can be established with itself. It regards the island as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Cross-strait relations have sharply deteriorated since Tsai took office in May 2016, mainly due to her refusal to heed Beijing's calls to accept the so-called "1992 consensus," a tacit understanding reached then by Taiwan's then-ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party that there is only "one China," with each side free to interpret what it means.

When asked on Friday whether the Tsai administration will discuss the possibility of recognizing the "1992 consensus," Huang said, "Of course not."

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