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Honduras changes its relations with China, a blow for Taiwan

Honduras changes its relations with China, a blow for Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has persuaded Honduras to drop its official ties with Taiwan and establish them with Beijing, a blow to Taipei’s international reputation days before the Taiwanese president embarks on a tour of Central America which will take her across the United States.

The shift reduced the small number of countries that have ties to Taiwan, the island democracy that Beijing claims as its territory, and was also a foil to Washington’s efforts to shore up Taiwan’s allies in Central America. Chinese leaders try to isolate Taiwan by demanding that it accept unification, while the United States tries to strengthen the island’s security and position.

Honduras’s allegiance may seem like a minor issue in the decades-long standoff between China and Taiwan, but the island’s diplomatic partners are now so few that any abandonment is a serious setback.

THE statement On Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Honduras was laconic, declaring in particular: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and, to date, the Government of Honduras has communicated to Taiwan the severance of diplomatic relations, pledging not to have official relations or contact with Taiwan.

Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, said at a press conference shortly after Honduras released its statement that “China’s actions to reduce our country’s diplomatic space have seriously hurt the feelings of the Taiwanese people and accelerated the opposite direction of relations across the strait.” statement On Twitter, the Foreign Ministry expressed Taiwan’s “deep regret” at the end of relations.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also intervened on Sunday. “China greatly appreciates this,” read part of its statement, calling Honduras’s decision “a correct choice in line with the general trend and in line with the will of the people.”

Without directly addressing the estrangement from Taiwan, Honduran government officials had said days earlier that forging closer ties with China was key to improving the country’s struggling economy.

“What we seek to establish through the relationship with China is to make investments to overcome the challenges the country is facing,” Honduran Secretary of State Rodolfo Pastor de María y Campos told reporters. noting that the country is struggling with more than $20 billion in debt.

China and its investors have already shown interest in the country by financing a hydroelectric dam and exploring rail and port projects in the country.

The establishment of China-Honduras relations comes days before Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, is due to visit Belize and Guatemala, Taiwan’s last two Latin American allies, to strengthen ties. President Tsai is due to leave Taiwan on Wednesday for a trip that will also include stops in the United States, which Beijing has protested.

In a Facebook post, President Tsai said that China’s efforts to remove Taiwan’s international participation “would not take away from the will of the Taiwanese people to embrace freedom and democracy and move towards the world”.

China demands that countries with which it has diplomatic relations renounce recognition of Taiwan. Since Ms Tsai took office in 2016, she has reduced the number of nations that recognize Taiwan as a country, instead of maintaining ties with China. Beijing has cut off most official contact with Ms Tsai’s government, accusing it of increasingly distancing Taiwan from China’s claims.

Only 12 countries and the Holy See now recognize Taiwan, compared to 21 in early 2017. The last time Taiwan lost a diplomatic ally was in 2021, when Nicaragua established diplomatic relations with China.

“It’s definitely a blow,” said Lu Yeh-chung, a professor in the department of diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Formal diplomatic relations with smaller countries are always very significant for Taiwan’s international status.”

The Honduran move is a setback in Washington’s efforts to use its influence in Central America to help prevent China from isolating Taiwan on the world stage. The State Department said President Biden sent an envoy to Honduras this month, a trip announced after Honduras indicated it would change ties.

“It’s easy for Washington to get upset when countries like Honduras change their alliance from Taiwan to Beijing,” said Mitch Hayes, an expert on China’s relations with Latin America and director of Veracity Worldwide, a communications firm. political risk consultancy in New York. “But they really need to understand that this is a pretty rational strategy for a small country and emerging economies. We can expect to see more in the years to come. »

China and Taiwan have long been engaged in what some analysts have described as “checkbook diplomacyto woo countries with aid and loans. Taiwan’s foreign minister Wu told the Legislative Assembly on Thursday that Honduras had demanded a “high price” from Taiwan.

Antonio García, Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister confirmed in an interview on Friday that since last September, Honduras had requested $2 billion in loans at least four times during meetings and dinners with Taiwanese officials.

“The approach was: ‘Help us, we have to produce results, it’s going to be a relief. We are not asking you to give us anything for free; we will pay you back,” García said, adding that the loan would have been used to pay off part of the country’s debt.

García said he had two discussions with Taiwanese officials about a loan and received an evasive response each time. “They listened carefully and told us that they would do the respective consultations with the Foreign Ministry in Taipei,” he said.

Taiwan’s foreign minister Wu said at Sunday’s press conference that in addition to the $2 billion loan, Honduras had also asked Taiwan to spend $45 million on construction. for a hospital and $300 million for the construction of a dam, but later increased those numbers to $90 million and $350 million.

In the days before the official break, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had expressed “serious concern” to Honduras and warned the country of the risk of taking China’s money.

“We want to remind the Honduran government that since it is in debt trouble, don’t drink poison to quench its thirst or it will fall into the Chinese debt trap,” said Jeff Liu, spokesperson for the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. a recent press conference.

Edward Wong contributed report.

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