Gambia is severing diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the West African nation said Thursday. The move means that Taiwan is recognized as an independent state by only 22 countries, which are mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, according to the Associated Press.
It is not clear whether Gambia’s decision is based on a new relationship with China, which has invested heavily in Africa’s oil and natural resources in recent years. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry claims Beijing had no knowledge of the move, but declined to say whether China had plans to establish formal ties with Gambia following the announcement.
In a statement released Thursday, the office of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said the decision had been taken for the country’s “strategic national interest.”
“We are proud that we have been a very strong and reliable partner of the ROC [Taiwan] for the past 18 years,” the statement said.
Taipei expressed “shock and regret” at the announcement.
Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (ROC), has been self-administered since 1949 but is regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province. The two sides compete to win diplomatic friends but relations have been more friendly since they signed a series of trade and economic agreements in 2008.
Policy experts say the Beijing government will attempt to downplay Gambia’s decision to avoid upsetting Taiwan. “The rest of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies will be watching,” a research fellow at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica told Reuters.