President Tsai Ing-wen’s office has admitted for the first time that it has a “contingency plan” ready in case Taiwan loses all of its diplomatic allies. And that day seems to be getting steadily closer.

El Salvador last week became the fifth country to switch recognition to China and pull its official representatives out of Taiwan since Tsai came to office more than two years ago. The others were Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso.

There are now only 17 countries in Taiwan’s camp, and most are small: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay in Latin America; Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean; Swaziland in Africa; the Vatican City in Europe; and Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu in the Pacific.

Tsai was tipped off about El Salvador’s possible switch months ago when the president was preparing for her state visits to Paraguay and Belize, as well as stopovers in the US, according to Taiwanese papers.

“We have considered all scenarios, including the one you mentioned,” Tsai’s spokesperson said after a reporter asked if the president had contemplated the possibility of being left with no diplomatic allies.

“So we formulated measures for different scenarios, including [El Salvador severing ties] before Tsai’s trip, during her transit stops in the US, during her stays in Paraguay and Belize, as well as after her trip,” he explained.

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US senator Cory Gardner meets with Tsai in Taipei in May. Photo: Central News Agency

As it has turned out, the Salvadoran and Chinese foreign ministers  made a joint announcement as Tsai was ending her trip on August 20.

Making phone calls to the leaders of remaining allies, notifying the US de facto embassy in Taipei and issuing statements expressing regret over the decision are believed to be part of the “contingency plan” to be used by Taiwan whenever an ally turns against the island.

Taiwanese papers have also reported a “retention plan” that was proposed by Republican senator for Colorado Cory Gardner, who  chairs the US Foreign Relations Committee’s Asia subcommittee.

Gardner reportedly met Tsai when the Taiwanese leader stopped over in the US last week to discuss what the US Congress could do to support the self-governing island. It was the second time in three months they had met up, after a discussion in Taipei in May.

Gardner is said to have proposed that the US formulate a strategy aimed at persuading foreign governments to continue supporting diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. This would authorize actions by the US Department of State, including halting aid and foreign military financing, to discourage any decisions “seen as adverse for Taiwan”, the island’s semi-official Central News Agency reported.

Washington accused China of seeking to constrain Taiwan’s international presence after El Salvador switched recognition.