Kiribati President Taneti Mamau, center, smiles at a meeting ahead of the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, which started on Sept 3. Talks center on the threat climate change poses to island states and China's rising influence in the region. Photo: AFP / Mike Leyral

The United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but cooperation between Washington and Taipei continues in other fields.

On Wednesday, the government of the Solomon Islands issued a press statement saying that a Taiwanese Military Medical Team had met acting prime minister Manasseh Sogavare to discuss a “health cooperation program.”

The Solomon Islands, along with the five other Pacific Ocean states — the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Palau — are among 16 nations worldwide that recognize Taiwan, so such cooperation is hardly surprising.

But the Taiwanese “team is currently in the country with their US counterpart,” the statement said. It went on to add that “in 2015, the United States Pacific Command (US PACOM) under the Defense Department… first invited Taiwan military medical professionals to conduct health engagement covering cross-border infectious diseases prevention as well as preventive medicine activities in Kiribati.”

Then, in 2016, “the Taiwan Medical Affairs Bureau, which is affiliated with the National Defense Ministry, decided to hold the engagement in the Solomon Islands not only to enhance Taiwan-US practical cooperation in military medicine but also enriching the medical capabilities and capacities of infectious diseases and disaster relief in Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the South Pacific region.”

Medical diplomacy keeps US-Taiwan relations alive in a strategically important region where China has made economic and diplomatic inroads over the past few decades.

Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu have diplomatic relations with China and the other nations, which recognize Taiwan, are under pressure from Beijing to adhere to its One China Policy.

Recognition of China comes with loans and aid projects and the US is wary of Beijing’s expanding influence on a region the Americans traditionally have regarded as “their lake.” So, cooperation with Taiwan, although discreet and officially only in the medical field, can come in handy at times.

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