MANAGUA, Nicaragua — China opened an embassy in Nicaragua on Friday for the first time since 1990, acting just over three weeks since President Daniel Ortega’s government broke off relations with Taiwan.
Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said there is an “ideological affinity” between the two countries. Moncada also thanked China for donating one million doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine.
Ortega established relations with China in 1985, but after he lost the presidential election in 1990, the government of Nicaragua’s new president, Violeta Chamorro, recognized Taiwan.
The Nicaraguan government broke relations with the Taiwanese on Dec. 9 and last week it seized the former embassy and diplomatic offices of Taiwan, saying they belong to China. However, China’s new embassy is located elsewhere, and it is unclear what China will do with the Taiwan building.
Before departing a week ago, Taiwanese diplomats attempted to donate the properties to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Managua. But Ortega’s government said that any such donation would be invalid and that the building in an upscale Managua neighborhood belongs to China.
Taiwan’s Foreign Relations Ministry condemned the “gravely illegal actions of the Ortega regime,” saying the Nicaraguan government violated standard procedures by giving Taiwanese diplomats just two weeks to get out of the country.
It said Taiwan “also condemns the arbitrary obstruction by the Nicaraguan government of the symbolic sale of its property to the Nicaraguan Catholic church.”
Monsignor Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the archdiocese of Managua, told the newspaper La Prensa that a Taiwanese diplomat had offered the church the property, but added: “I told him there was no problem, but the transfer was still in the legal process.”
The Central American country said in early December it would officially recognize only China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory.
The move increased Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation on the international stage, even as the island has stepped up official exchanges with countries such as Lithuania and Slovakia, which do not formally recognize Taiwan as a country. Taiwan has 14 formal diplomatic allies remaining.
China has been poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies over the past few years, reducing the number of countries that recognize the democratic island as a sovereign nation. China is against Taiwan representing itself in global forums or in diplomacy.
Taiwan depicts itself as a defender of democracy, while Ortega was reelected as Nicaragua’s leader in November in what the White House called a “pantomime election.”
“The arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 40 opposition figures since May, including seven potential presidential candidates, and the blocking of political parties from participation rigged the outcome well before election day,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement in November.