Sept. 17 (UPI) -- After 36 years of diplomatic relations, the Solomon Islands voted to sever its ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China.
In response, Taiwan immediately terminated relations with the Solomon Islands, stating it "strongly condemns" its decision to side with China. It said the move was "extremely regrettable."
The Solomon Islands voted 27 in favor of the alliance switch while six caucus members abstained, the Solomon Times reported.
This is another blow to Taiwan, a self-governing state that China claims as its territory, that has lost several allies to Beijing since 2016.
There are now only 16 countries that maintain relations with Taiwan.
Following the Solomon Islands' decision Monday, Taiwan accused China of bribing the island-chain nation into alliance.
"China has once again resorted to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China's National Day of October 1," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "Beijing's purpose is to diminish Taiwan's international presence, hurt the Taiwanese people and gradually suppress and eliminate Taiwan's sovereignty."
Taiwan said the decision by the Solomon Islands is evidence of China seeking to influence its upcoming presidential and legislative elections while calling on the international community to "take note of China's relentless campaign to expand its authoritarianism, set debt traps for other countries and fulfill its strategic goals and gain influence in the Indo-Pacific region."
Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, said her country's embassy in the Solomon Islands would lower its flag for the last time Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. while recalling all technical and medical mission personnel stationed there.
"People around the world know that by luring away our diplomatic allies and stepping up pressure on us across the board over the past few years, China has sought to damage the morale of the Taiwanese people and force Taiwan to accept 'one country, two systems,' " she said, referring to the system that also rules over Hong Kong, which has been engulfed in months of often violent protests against a bill that residents of the special administrative region see as a whittling away of their freedoms.
"I am confident that the 23 million people of Taiwan have this to say in response: not a chance," Tsai said.
China, meanwhile, "highly commends" the Solomon Islands' decision as recognition of its one-China principle through ending its relations with Taiwan.
"There is but one China in the world and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government that represents the whole of China," Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory. These are basic facts and the universal consensus of the international community."
She then highlighted China's 178 diplomatic relations as international support of its one-China policy.
Despite the United States switching its diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in January 1979, the governments "enjoy a robust unofficial relationship," according to the U.S. State Department.
The two countries have also seen a strengthening of relations under President Donald Trump and Tsai. Even before taking office, Trump took a call from Tsai that broke decades of protocol and more recently his administration signed off on a major arms deal to sell Taiwan dozens of F-16 fighter jets.
While the White House had yet to respond to the move, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he would explore options to cut off U.S. funding to the Solomon Islands while Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner called it "a profound and regrettable mistake" that "should be reversed."
"China's hostile actions toward Taipei will be met with resolve by the free world," he said via Twitter.