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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taiwanese Accuse Beijing Of 'Buying' South Africa

BEIJING -- China on Thursday savored its latest victory in a diplomatic tug-of-war with Taiwan, while the stunned island scrambled to limit the damage from South Africa's decision to abandon it.

South African President Nelson Mandela said in Johannesburg on Wednesday that Pretoria would switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing by the end of 1997.

Beijing hailed the move, saying it was in South Africa's interest.

"We ... welcome President Mandela's positive statement concerning normalization of relations between China and South Africa," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cui Tiankai told a news briefing in Beijing.

"If South Africa can recognize reality at an earlier date, it is in its own interest to do so," Cui said.

Beijing and Taipei have been diplomatic rivals since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

China regards Taiwan as a rebel province and has sought to push the island into diplomatic isolation. Taiwan insists its 21 million people should have a voice in international affairs.

South Africa is the biggest of just 30 states that recognize Taiwan's exiled Republic of China rather than the communist People's Republic on the mainland.

"South Africa must recognize there is only one China, recognize that Taiwan is a part of China and sever so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan," spokesman Cui said.

Wealthy but diplomatically isolated Taiwan was stunned by Mandela's announcement and scrambled to limit the damage by urging its 29 other allies not to be swayed by China.

"We hope such a situation won't affect our diplomatic relations with other countries," Taiwan's Foreign Minister John Chang said in a news conferencei.

"We will actively negotiate with South Africa in the next 12 months," Chang said, adding that he might visit South Africa before an official visit scheduled for January.

South Africa's ambassador to Taiwan, Johannes Viljoen, urged the island not to exact reprisals against Pretoria.

But Taiwan's top economic planner said the island would not continue to encourage investment in South Africa.

Tuntex, one of the island's major business groups, said earlier on Thursday it would respect the government's wishes in deciding whether to move ahead with a planned $3 billion petrochemical project in South Africa.

Taiwan officials said they would conduct an overall review of Taiwanese investments in South Africa, currently totalling over $1.5 billion.

South Africa's decision to switch ties to China sent Taiwan stocks into a brief dive, but the market had recovered by the close. The Taiwanese dollar closed little changed against its U.S. counterpart, despite news of the island's diplomatic setback.

Taiwanese officials blamed China for South Africa's decision to ditch Taiwan, saying China was "buying" foreign ties and damaging chances for reunification between the longtime rivals.

There were no protests at Pretoria's embassy in Taipei, contrasting with the public outrage displayed in previous years after Washington, Seoul and other former allies dropped Taipei for Beijing.