Taiwan to swap office with breakaway state Somaliland

Taipei (AFP) –


Taiwan announced Wednesday it was opening representative offices with the breakaway state of Somaliland, warming ties between two de facto sovereign territories that are denied widespread international recognition.

Foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan and Somaliland had signed an agreement in February to swap representative offices and cooperate in areas such as agriculture, mining and health.

"We're thousands of miles apart, but share a deep-seated love of freedom and democracy," Wu tweeted.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but remains unrecognised by the international community.

While anarchic southern Somalia has been riven by years of fighting between multiple militia forces and Islamist violence, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace.

Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan is officially recognised by only 15 countries -- China poached seven of its diplomatic allies after President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016.

Tsai describes Taiwan as "already independent" but China views the island as its own territory and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary.

Beijing has cut official communication with Taiwan while also ramping up military and economic pressure since Tsai was first elected four years ago.

"Taiwan's situation in the international community is difficult but we will not cower. We will continue to strengthen pragmatic relations with like-minded countries," Wu told reporters.

"China's pressure on us in the international community is very big."

The office will bear the name Taiwan rather than Taipei which is used in the island's offices in countries without diplomatic relations.

Taiwan and Beijing have been engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war for decades trying to woo away each other's allies with financial and other incentives.

In the last decade, only a handful -- largely impoverished countries in Latin America and the Pacific -- have remained loyal to Taiwan.

The only European state to still recognise Taiwan is the Vatican.