Taiwan loses diplomatic ally as Honduras moves to open ties with China

Honduras will ditch diplomatic relations with Taiwan as the country’s leftist president opens official relations with China, in a move that is set to further isolate Taipei.

President Xiomara Castro announced on Twitter on Tuesday that she had instructed officials to open official relations with China, which would involve the central American country cutting off ties with Taiwan.

Castro wrote the decision was “a sign of my determination to fulfil the government plan and expand borders”.

Beijing has sought to reduce Taipei’s influence on the global stage by blocking its membership in international organisations and luring away its allies with promises of investment and deeper trading relationships. China does not allow countries with which it has diplomatic ties to maintain official relations with Taiwan, over which it claims sovereignty.

Relations between Honduras and Taiwan date back to 1941. The central American nation was one of Taiwan’s last remaining diplomatic allies, a small group of largely island countries that Taipei has been battling to maintain with aid programmes and investment.

China has successfully poached a series of Taiwan’s allies in central America and the Caribbean over the past five years, including Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Taipei has 13 diplomatic allies and could lose another after next month’s election in Paraguay, where outgoing president Mario Abdo Benítez has called on Taiwan to invest $1bn to help resist “enormous” pressure to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

Xiomara pledged in her presidential campaign to establish ties with Beijing, sparking concern in Washington given the country’s importance for US national security. Honduras, whose largest trading partner is the US, hosts an air base that is crucial to Washington’s military efforts to tackle Latin American drug cartels.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it had expressed “serious concern” to the government of Honduras, saying Taipei had been a “sincere and reliable” ally.

The spokesperson added Taipei had “assisted in Honduras’s national development” and called on the country to not “fall into China’s trap and make a wrong decision”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin welcomed the announcement, calling countries’ moves to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing “the right choice in keeping with historical trends”.

“China is willing to develop friendship and co-operative relations with all countries, including Honduras, based on the ‘one China’ principle,” he said.

Chinese investors have become increasingly active in Honduras over the past few years, including backing the construction of a large hydropower dam in the country. Beijing’s commercial activities in Honduras reflect a wider shift to expand economic and political links in Washington’s backyard.

The US has also moved to strengthen non-diplomatic ties with Taiwan, as tensions run high in the face of Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness against the island.

Next month, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen is expected to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California — rather than in Taipei, as the Republican had initially sought, out of concern over provoking a harsh military response from Beijing. Tsai will also make stops in Guatemala and Belize, two of Taiwan’s remaining allies.

“The timing of the announcement makes sense just before Tsai goes to the US and Guatemala to promote Taiwan on the international stage,” said Antonio Yang, a Taiwanese Latin America expert and honorary professor at the National Defence University in Tegucigalpa. “From Beijing’s perspective, it is a good time to undermine Tsai’s foreign policy efforts.”

On Tuesday, the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy, announced that six congressional representatives would visit Taiwan on Wednesday and Thursday.

Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing

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