US Relies on Honduras to Rethink China Switch, Hope for Delay
Sarah Kinosian and Ben Blanchard
(Reuters) – The United States is trying to stop Honduras from carrying out its plan to shift diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, people close to the case say, hoping the lack of a formal deal could leave the door open for a change of heart. Continued US diplomatic pressure comes after Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on Tuesday that her country would establish official relations with China, in line with a pledge it made during its 2021 presidential campaign. Then, in 2022, her government appears to have abandoned this policy. . Officials and former officials from the US and several Central American countries have said that Castro’s preliminary statement contrasts with how Latin American countries tend to publicly announce a shift from China to Taiwan. “We don’t really know if it’s going to be days, weeks or months,” a US government spokesman told Reuters. Is this a negotiation tactic? We don’t know for sure, but we will continue to defend our point of view.” Since 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected President of Taiwan, Panama, El Salvador and most recently Nicaragua have switched sides. Everyone announced the transition as a fait accompli.
“I got an hour to note, even after talking to the president about it,” said John Feely, who was the U.S. ambassador to Panama when she made the switch in 2017.
In another unusual twist, Honduran ambassador to Taiwan Harold Burgos met with Taiwanese foreign ministry officials on Wednesday following Castro’s announcement, which the Nicaraguan ambassador refused to do during her country’s 2021 transition, two diplomatic sources in Taipei said.
Reuters was unable to learn of the outcome of the meeting, although Taiwan’s foreign ministry publicly said it told Burgos that his country should “carefully consider this issue so as not to fall into China’s trap and make a wrong decision.” China does not allow countries to maintain diplomatic relations with both itself and Taiwan, considering the island as its territory. Beijing considers Tsai a separatist. For her part, she says Taiwanese people should decide their own future.
Both US and Taiwanese officials say that while the announcement was not unexpected given Castro’s campaign stance, the tweet and his timing took them by surprise. Former and current US officials were quick to say that many of the countries that made the switch did not get the economic benefits they had hoped for. “Countries need to know that this is not money for nothing, but chickens for free,” Fili said, referring to the 1980s Dire Straits hit, echoing the point the US government keeps making that “PRC promises more than performs. China disputes this, and the country’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that Taiwan’s former allies such as Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador are seeing “rapid development” in bilateral relations, bringing them “tangible benefits.” If Honduras’ move to Beijing would formalized, Taiwan would have only 13 diplomatic allies, including Belize and Guatemala.
(Reporting by Sara Kinosian in Mexico City and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Dave Graham and Lincoln Fist.)
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