China opens embassy in Dominican Republic after break with Taiwan

By Jorge Pineda
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Dominican Republic's Chancellor Miguel Vargas shake hands after signing a bilateral agreement in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

By Jorge Pineda

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - China's most senior envoy inaugurated a new embassy in the Dominican Republic on Friday after the Caribbean country cut ties with Taiwan in a move that prompted U.S. concern over the Asian island's dwindling number of allies.

"We have witnessed a historic breakthrough," capping 20 years of growing engagement, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi, the government's top diplomat, said in an speech televised by Chinese state media.

Along with the Dominican Republic's decision in May, Panama and El Salvador also stopped recognizing Taiwan in the past two years.

The United States recalled its top diplomats in those countries over the switch of alliances and warned that China was offering economic incentives in a bid for domination.

Tensions between the United States and countries in the region have flared over U.S. President Donald Trump's hard line policies against immigration.

Self-ruled Taiwan now has formal relations with only 17 countries, almost all of them small and less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

U.S. Ambassador Robin Bernstein said on Thursday, in her first public appearance back in the Dominican Republic, that she had been asked about China's role in the region while in Washington, and that she hoped countries were considering their "long-term goals."

In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. embassy in El Salvador lamented that countries in the region were deepening ties to "unfamiliar partners" and engaging in transactions that "lack transparency."

Wang said the Dominican Republic is China's biggest trade partner in the Caribbean sea, setting the foundation for diplomatic ties.

"The Chinese developing economy and expanding market have brought real benefits to the Dominican Republic," he said.

Wang will also visit Guyana and Suriname before speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

(Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)