The United States has been working to help Taiwan consolidate its formal diplomatic ties with countries in the Pacific island region and prevent them from being poached by China, according to a top State Department official.

“We work very carefully and closely with them to make sure their needs are met. And we try to close off any opportunities that China could exploit,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Appearing at a Senate committee hearing on U.S strategy in the Pacific island region, Kritenbrink was responding to a question about China’s poaching of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, and what the U.S can do to try and flip them back to Taiwan recognition.

The most recent Pacific nation to switch allegiance to Beijing was Nauru, on 15 January, leaving the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan’s formal name) with only three diplomatic allies in the Pacific — Tuvalu, Palau and the Marshall Islands.

Two other previous allies, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, severed ties with the ROC to recognise the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2019.

Given that history, Kritenbrink said countries ought to be “clear eyed” about China.

“Our message to Nauru and then to the three remaining partners of Taiwan in the region is again countries ought to be careful and clear eyed about entering in these arrangements with China,” Kritenbrink said, indicating that Beijing often makes promises that are never met.

In the case of Nauru, he said the State Department had been aware of the situation for quite some time, but the disappointment was in the way it was done.

“The excuses that were used by the PRC [included] certain economic inducements and UN General Assembly resolution 2758, which was misused and misinterpreted,” the assistant secretary said.

Resolution 2758 was adopted by the 26th UN General Assembly in 1971 to solve the issue of China’s representation in the UN system and ultimately led to the UN’s decision to expel the ROC and have the PRC take its place in the international organization.

The resolution passed on 25 October, 1971 recognises the PRC as the “only lawful representative of China.”

Taiwan and U.S governments have repeatedly argued, however, that it does not mention Taiwan, does not state that “Taiwan is part of the PRC,” and does not explicitly authorise Beijing to represent Taiwan in the UN system.

“Every country has the sovereign decision to make their own decision, including on these recognition questions. But we do encourage countries to be cautious and careful given the track record of the PRC,” Kritenbrink said.

According to Kritenbrink, the Pacific Islands face significant challenges to their security and prosperity, including from climate change and economic shocks, making the region more vulnerable to influence from China.