Taiwanese official says Costa Rica could cut diplomatic ties

Costa Rica has given indications that it may cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a Taiwanese official said Tuesday, a move that could badly hit the island's fragile international standing.

Foreign Ministry spokesman David Wang said Taiwanese diplomats were monitoring the Costa Rican situation closely, fearing that it could soon switch its recognition to rival China.

"There are warnings," he said. "There have been signs. That is the situation."

Wang did not say what the signs were.

Since splitting amid civil war in 1949, Taiwan and China have fought a no-holds-barred battle to win the diplomatic allegiance of countries around the world. China refuses to have diplomatic ties with nations that recognize Taiwan.

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.

Taiwan fears that if Costa Rica shifts its recognition to Beijing, other Latin American 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.

The high-water mark for Taiwan's diplomatic profile came in 1969, when it had full relations with 67 countries, including the United States and much of western Europe.

In 1971, the United Nations shifted its recognition from Taipei to Beijing. By 1979, when the United States pulled its embassy out of the Taiwanese capital, only 22 countries were left.

Twenty-five countries now recognize Taiwan, though aside from the Vatican it has no representation in Europe and none in mainland Asia.