Taiwan protested Thursday after Nigeria asked it to shut down its trade office in the capital, in what it said was an attempt by Beijing to push it out of Africa’s largest economy.
The island’s foreign ministry said Nigeria had asked Taiwan to move its trade office out of the capital Abuja in a show of support for Beijing.
Chinese leaders see the self-ruling island as a renegade province which is still part of “one China”.
Ties have deteriorated since Beijing-sceptic president Tsai Ing-wen took the leadership in May and have worsened further in recent weeks since Tsai made a congratulatory call to United States President-elect Donald Trump and later transited through the US despite protests from Beijing.
The US is Taiwan’s most powerful ally and main arms supplier.
Taiwan says Beijing is leaning on other countries as a pressure tactic on Tsai.
“The foreign ministry protests and condemns Nigeria for collaborating with China’s political goal to engage in unreasonable, barbaric, rough and violent political manipulation,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The island’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which handles relations with Beijing, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over what it called an “unreasonable and provocative action”.
Beijing said Nigeria had taken the decision to ask the trade office to move out of Abuja, and to make sure its government had no official contact with Taiwan, in order to show its backing for the “one China” principle.
“The Nigerian government has made a political decision and taken tough measures on the Taiwan office’s violation of the ‘one China’ principle,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters.
Lu said the move had “cleared the political blocks in the way of bilateral relations” with Nigeria.
Nigeria has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Only 21 countries officially recognise the island as a sovereign state, with most nations instead recognising Beijing.
Nigeria pledged to “keep faith” with all its agreements with China in a government statement Thursday, without mentioning Taiwan.
For years, China and Taiwan were locked in a bitter diplomatic tug-of-war, luring away each other’s allies with generous financial packages in so-called “chequebook diplomacy”.
Diplomatic tussles between the two had eased under Taiwan’s previous Beijing-friendly government.
But since Tsai won elections in January last year, China has established relations with Taiwan’s former ally Gambia and the small African nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
“The things China has done are not helpful for improving cross-strait relations but rather harmful for improving ties,” Taiwan premier Lin Chuan told reporters Thursday when discussing the Nigeria row.
Beijing has also upped its military drills near the island since the Tsai-Trump call, with China’s only aircraft carrier moving through the Taiwan Strait earlier this week.
Lin said Taiwan had shown “good will” towards Beijing.
“We will not provoke and will not do things that are not expected,” he said.