In Blow to Taiwan, Solomon Islands Is Said to Switch Relations to China

DULAN, Taiwan — The Solomon Islands has reportedly decided to break diplomatic relations with the government of Taiwan in order to establish official ties with China, dealing a blow to both Taipei’s global standing and Washington’s regional diplomacy in the Pacific.

Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister, said at a news conference on Monday that Taiwan had learned that the Solomons, an archipelago east of Australia, had chosen to end 36 years of recognition of Taiwan’s government, leaving only 16 countries that maintain official relations with Taipei. These countries are the most likely to speak up for Taiwan in international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, where Taipei is not a member.

For the United States, the Solomons’ decision is a setback in its effort to prevent China from continuing to make diplomatic inroads among island nations in the Pacific, a region of increasing geostrategic competition between Washington and Beijing. Five of the nations that still have diplomatic ties with Taiwan are in the region.

China’s Communist Party claims self-governing Taiwan as its territory, but has never ruled it. Beijing has intensified its efforts to peel off Taiwan’s remaining official allies, and some have found China’s economic might too much to resist.

In a statement, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused China of bribing Solomons politicians to abandon Taipei in the run-up to the 70th anniversary on Oct. 1 of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party.

“The government of China has once again resorted to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China’s National Day,” the statement said. “Beijing’s purpose is to diminish Taiwan’s international presence, hurt the Taiwanese people, and gradually suppress and eliminate Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Washington broke official ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing as a Cold War counterweight against the Soviet Union. But Taiwan has remained an important, if unofficial, American ally in East Asia.

Relations with Taiwan have grown significantly stronger since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, followed by President Trump’s inauguration in early 2017. The United States has authorized two major potential arms sales to Taiwan in recent months.

Both Ms. Tsai and Mr. Trump are facing re-election challenges next year, with Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January.

“It is absolutely evident that China, through this case, deliberately seeks to influence Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said.

Ms. Tsai’s challenger, Han Kuo-yu, the China-friendly mayor of the city of Kaohsiung in Taiwan’s south, has attacked her over deteriorating cross-strait relations, even though Beijing has ignored her calls for dialogue since she became president.

Shortly after the announcement about the Solomons, Mr. Han’s campaign office released a statement criticizing both China and Ms. Tsai.

“We strongly suggest that the president find concrete steps to stop the domino effects of allies’ diplomatic de-recognition, thus safeguarding the R.O.C.’s sovereignty as she has promised,” the statement said, referring to the Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan — and the government that lost the Chinese civil war in the 1940s.

On Monday, Ms. Tsai acknowledged that the Solomons’ decision was a letdown.

“Changes in the diplomatic arena are indeed challenging,” she said. “But Taiwan still has many friends around the world willing to stand with us, and we are not alone.”

Ms. Tsai also pushed back against a standing offer by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in which Beijing would administer Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” model that China uses to preside over Hong Kong.

For months, Hong Kong has been roiled by protests against its eroding semi-autonomy under the system, a model that Mr. Han appeared to tacitly endorse earlier this year when he met with Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Wang Zhimin. He later met with the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Liu Jieyi.

“China has sought to damage the morale of the Taiwanese people and force Taiwan to accept ‘one country, two systems,’ ” Ms. Tsai said. “I am confident that the 23 million people of Taiwan have this to say in response: ‘Not a chance.’ ”