TOKYO -- St. Vincent and the Grenadines cherishes its bond with Taiwan and has no intention of abandoning bilateral diplomatic exchanges even under pressure from mainland China, the Caribbean nation's leader told Nikkei.
St. Vincent will continue to have relations with Taipei, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in an interview here on Monday.
"There is no intention for the change," he said.
China has doubled down on efforts to isolate Taiwan from the rest of the world since Tsai Ing-wen, who refuses to accept that Taiwan and the mainland are part of "One China," became the island's president in 2016. Four countries, including Panama, have severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in the last two years or so. Only 18 still recognize it as its own country.
Gonsalves acknowledged that St. Vincent is seeing greater involvement by mainland Chinese in trade and in the restaurant industry. It also receives investments and loans from the Caribbean Development Bank, of which China is a member. But relations with Taiwan are "very important," he said.
Taiwan provided nearly 20% of the funding for a $270 million airport that opened in St. Vincent last year. The country, with a population of 110,000, has long depended on agriculture and fishing but is now sharpening its focus on tourism, which has picked up in recent years.
Spanning 32 islands, St. Vincent receives an annual 100,000 visitors who stay at least one night. Cruise ships bring in another 300,000 same-day visitors each year. Tourism accounts for 15% to 18% of gross domestic product and will grow, Gonsalves said.
The country's debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 72%, partly from building the new airport. St. Vincent aims to bring this under 60% by 2025, according to the prime minister.