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(photo credit: AP)
President Oscar Arias announced Wednesday that Costa Rica has broken diplomatic ties with Taiwan after nearly 60 years and established relations with China.
In a decision that could badly hit Taiwan's fragile international standing, Arias said Costa Rica needed to strengthen ties with China to attract foreign investment.
Since splitting amid civil war in 1949, Taiwan and China have fought to win the diplomatic allegiance of countries around the world. China refuses to have diplomatic ties with nations that recognize Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province it plans to eventually reunify with the mainland.
"Taiwan has been very generous and I thank it for the solidarity and co-operation it has shown for nearly 60 years, but I have taken this decision thinking of all the Costa Ricans," Arias said at a news conference.
"We are looking to strengthen the commercial ties and attract investment," he said "China is the most successful emerging economy in the world and soon it will be the second strongest economy in the world after the United States."
China spends heavily to induce nations to change diplomatic allegiances, offering investment, loans and other incentives.
Arias said China is the Central American nation's No. 1 trading partner, buying more than $1 billion worth of Costa Rican exports last year.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister James Huang was set to brief reporters Thursday on Costa Rica's decision, the foreign ministry said.
Taiwan has been concerned about a deterioration of its relations with Costa Rica since May 14, when the Latin American country voted at an international health conference against holding a discussion on proposed Taiwanese membership in the World Health Organization.
On May 25, Foreign Minister James Huang met with officials from Costa Rica and four other Latin American countries in Belize City in an effort to shore up Taiwan's diplomatic standing in the region.
Central America in particular has been a bulwark of support for Taiwan, and Taiwan had expressed fears that if Costa Rica were to shift its recognition to Beijing, other nations such as Nicaragua and Panama could soon follow suit.
That would leave the democratic island of 23 million people counting on countries like Palau and St. Lucia to bolster its claims of international legitimacy.
Arias declined to comment on whether his decision could encourage other Central American nations to transfer their allegiance from Taipei to Beijing.
"I won't speculate on the consequences of this decision in the rest of Central American because I made it thinking about Costa Rica," he said.
Salvadoran President Tony Saca said Wednesday that his nation was interested in establishing relations with China but did not want to sever ties with Taiwan.
"Taiwan is an independent country that has won its space and we will going maintaining relations with Taiwan. If China accepts this we will open relations with pleasure," Saca said.