Managua (AFP + Diplomat.so) - Nicaragua switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China on Thursday, meaning just 14 nations now recognize the democratic island that Beijing has vowed to one day seize.
The announcement is a diplomatic coup for China as it tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and as Taipei strengthens ties with multiple unofficial Western friends such as the United States.
China has spent decades successfully encouraging Taiwan's diplomatic allies to switch sides, including three others in Latin America in recent years -- Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
On Thursday, the administration of Daniel Ortega announced that Nicaragua was following suit.
"The People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory," Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said.
Taiwan expressed "heartfelt pain and regret" over the decision and the foreign ministry promptly removed Nicaragua from its dwindling list of diplomatic allies on its website.
But it also said it would continue to build alliances elsewhere.
"As a member of the international community, Taiwan has the right to exchange and develop diplomatic relations with other countries," the foreign ministry said.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua confirmed the news in a short dispatch and said delegations from China and Nicaragua had already held talks in the Chinese city of Tianjin on Friday.
China's Communist Party leaders claim Taiwan as part of their territory and have vowed to one day take the island, by force if needed.
Relations between the two sides have plunged under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Beijing started ramping up diplomatic, military and economic pressure after the 2016 election of Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.
She regards Taiwan as an already sovereign nation and not part of "one China".
But Beijing's sabre-rattling has reached new heights in the past 18 months with Chinese fighter jets and bombers now routinely flying into Taiwan's air defence identification zone, a step they had largely avoided before.
In the past, Taipei had fluid relations with Nicaragua, cooperating on issues such as health and agriculture.
When he returned to power in 2007, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega -- a former Marxist guerrilla -- had expressed his hope to establish ties with both China and Taiwan at the same time, a concept that China would not condone.
Taiwan's remaining allies in Central America are Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It has ties with a handful of other countries including Haiti and Paraguay.
Honduras looks like it could be the next ally to fall after leftist Xiomara Castro won election earlier this month.
Castro, who will take office in late January, has previously said she plans to make the switch to China.
Outside of Latin America and the Caribbean, Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies are limited to four small Pacific island nations, Eswatini in Africa and the Vatican.
However multiple powerful Western allies continue to maintain de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei and those relationships have strengthened in recent years as China's threats of invasion have become more pronounced.
In recent months, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in Taipei with multiple delegations from the US and several European nations visiting.
Last month China downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Vilnius agreed to let Taiwan open a trade mission.
Jessica Drun, a Taiwan expert at the Atlantic Council, said Taiwan will likely be unruffled by the loss of another diplomatic ally.
"I personally believe that Taiwan's unofficial relationships are more critical than its official ones," she told AFP.