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Sao Tome latest target in China and Taiwan's fight for allies

The small African nation in the Atlantic Ocean has embraced Beijing after suffering a series of economic setbacks. Taiwan, a former Sao Tome ally, has accused China of practicing "dollar diplomacy."

China was quick to promise its full support for the small but investment-ripe island nation of Sao Tome and Principe on Monday, just one week after it cut ties with Taiwan. Sao Tome has denied reports the decision came after Taipei rejected its plea for a loan.

Taiwan immediately accused Beijing of engaging in "dollar diplomacy," and taking advantage of the idyllic African nation's financial woes. Although its economy is largely based on cocoa exports, its location at the heart of the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea have led to speculation it could become a hub of oil and gas production.

"China is willing to support Sao Tome's quest for socio-economic development and efforts to improve livelihoods and well-being to the best of its ability," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after a meeting with his Sao Tomean counterpart Urbino Botelho.

Botelho partially apologized for his government having established relations with Taiwan in 1997.

"We have to recognize that China plays an increasingly important role in the world, especially as a partner to promote development and its contributions protecting the interests of developing nations," adding that "Sao Tome is a small, island nation, with very friendly people. It is tranquil. It has very good conditions for developing trade and business and cooperating with Chinese companies."

Taiwan losing ground

The developments in Sao Tome were the latest in a long history of Beijing and Taiwan competing over allies. Taipei sees itself as the legitimate government of China that was forced to flee the advent of communism, while Beijing regards Taiwan as nothing more than a breakaway state that rightly belongs to mainland China. Support for Taiwan's claim has waxed and waned, falling from a high of support in the mid 1990s to having just a handful of formal allies today, most of them small developing nations in Latin America and the Pacific Ocean.

Despite decades of crusading against Communism, even the United States adopted a "one China" policy recognizing the legitimacy of the Beijing government in 1979. This ran largely unquestioned until President-elect Donald Trump spokes with Taiwan Preset Tsai Ing-wen last month. He then expressed his skepticism at a policy that allows the US to sell weapons to Taiwan but not affirm the validity of its government.

es/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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