WASHINGTON — Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said on Wednesday that his country’s switch of diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China was “the right decision.”
The president, who is visiting the United States this week, explained why he made the policy change in response to reporters’ questions at an Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.
He said he was impressed by the economic changes in China when he was invited to the Special Olympics in Shanghai in 2007 and saw how China was changing its economic system and bringing in foreign investment.
He said he told Beijing then that he would start relations with China if elected president. Varela was sworn in as president of the Central American nation in July 2014 after serving as vice president for five years.
He noted that in 2008, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang became Taiwan’s president and established a “diplomatic truce” with China, which resulted in increased trade and tourism between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, in what he described as “a success story.”
But then there was a change in Taiwan’s administration in May 2016, and he said he advised diplomats and high-level officials in Taiwan, and even Taiwan’s president during a visit to Panama, that if the “diplomatic truce” is broken, Panama would switch diplomatic recognition.
Varela said that China has an important place in the world economy, and that establishing ties with it is the right thing to do.
He said it is a positive move for his country’s development and that he looks forward to “bringing a lot of investment” to his country.
Asked if he told the United States in advance about the decision to switch diplomatic ties, he said that he shared the information with the “important partner,” adding that his country is a sovereign state and does not need anyone’s permission for its decision.
Varela announced his government’s decision to establish official ties with China on June 13, Taipei time. The decision leaves Taiwan with only 20 diplomatic allies in the world, 11 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean.