The number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies who have cut ties since President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in two years ago keeps climbing: El Salvador jumped on the bandwagon this Tuesday to pull out its diplomats, the fifth one after São Tomé and Príncipe, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso to switched allegiance to Beijing since 2016.

The latest break-up has come on the heels of Tsai’s week-long state visits to two Latin American nations as well as her much-ballyhooed transit stopovers in the US cities of Los Angeles and Houston. Tsai’s trips were meant to help remaining allies, 17 as of now, stay loyal while piggybacking on Washington’s renewed backing symbolized by the Taiwan Travel Act.

Thus the timing of El Salvador’s sudden decision to defect to rival Beijing must be humiliating for Tsai, who visited the Central American nation in January 2017.

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A file photo shows Tsai with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren during her visit to the nation in January 2017. Photo: Presidential Office of Taiwan

People’s Daily reported on Tuesday morning that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his visiting Salvadoran counterpart Carlos Castaneda had signed a joint communiqué in Beijing on the establishment of diplomatic ties.

In Taiwan, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu condemned what he described “China’s campaign of luring away Taiwan’s allies with promises of vast financial aid and investment,” adding that Taiwan would never compete with China to buy loyalty or use “dollar or debt-trap diplomacy” to dupe other nations.

He added that “this is why El Salvador’s repeated requests for assistance with an unfeasible port development were declined.”

The island’s Foreign Ministry also said it would start the closure of its embassy in San Salvador and all cooperation programs would be aborted.

“Such efforts only serve to galvanize the people of Taiwan and strengthen their will to resist” Beijing’s browbeating of Taiwan’s international presence, it said in a statement.

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Other than the Holy See, Taipei’s remaining diplomatic allies are mostly miniature island nations or developing countries to which Taiwan has to dole out aid to help them stay loyal.

Meanwhile, Tsai’s office stressed that the president was fully aware of El Salvador’s decision to sever ties, refuting the rumor that she was kept in the dark until the last minute.

Castaneda was quoted as saying in Beijing that his country had made a “strategic decision” and taken the “correct and beneficial path for the people of both nations.”

Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced the decision in a televised address on Monday evening.

Beijing has stepped up its poaching of Taiwan’s allies since Tsai became president in 2016, while also sending bombers, spy planes and destroyers, and even its aircraft carrier, on circumnavigation missions to deter the island’s separatists.

Tsai belongs to the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party.

Read more: Arms donations used by Taipei to help allies stay loyal