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The Republic of China flag is lowered at the Taiwan embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands on Sept. 17, 2019. The Solomon Islands cut off ties with Taipei and now Taiwan has severed its relationship with the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.YOUTHS ONLINE CAMPAIGN - FOR CHA/Reuters

Taiwan said on Friday it has cut official ties with the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, losing another ally amid Chinese pressure on nations with diplomatic relations with the self-ruled island.

China claims Taiwan as its territory, and says the democratic island has no right to formal ties with any country.

The Kiribati president’s office and China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move comes days after the Solomon Islands cut off ties with Taipei and deals a fresh blow to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January.

Taiwan has lost seven allies to China since she took office in 2016 amid criticism of her handling of relations with China.

Since Tsai took office, China has increased pressure on Taiwan, including with regular Chinese bomber patrols around the island. China suspects Tsai of pushing for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei that Taiwan had terminated diplomatic ties with Kiribati and will immediately close down its embassy there.

“According to information obtained by Taiwan, the Chinese government has already promised to provide full funds for the procurement of several airplanes and commercial ferries, thus luring Kiribati into switching diplomatic relations,” Wu said.

Wu said China is trying to “suppress and reduce Taiwan’s international presence” and “ultimately destroy Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

“It is blatantly obvious that the Chinese government, by creating these diplomatic incidents, seeks to manipulate public opinion in Taiwan, influence Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections, and undermine its democratic processes.”

Kiribati is the seventh country to drop Taiwan as a diplomatic ally since 2016, following Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, El Salvador and the Solomon Islands.

Taiwan now has formal relations with only 15 countries worldwide. (Reporting By Yimou Lee in TAIPEI; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Neil Fullick)

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