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Honduras to seek China ties in blow to Taiwan, U.S.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s Tuesday request to the country’s foreign minister leaves little doubt – official relations will soon be opened with China, driving a venomous thorn in Taiwan’s side in a forerun to a momentous visit by President Tsai Ing-wen to the United States and Central America.

“I have instructed Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina to manage the opening of official relations with the People’s Republic of China,” Castro tweeted.

He instruido al Canciller Eduardo Reina, para que gestione la apertura de relaciones oficiales con la República Popular China, como muestra de mi determinación para cumplir el Plan de Gobierno y expandir las fronteras con libertad en el concierto de las naciones del mundo.

— Xiomara Castro de Zelaya (@XiomaraCastroZ) March 14, 2023

The statement precedes Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s scheduled trip to Central America next month where she is expected to visit Guatemala and Belize. She will also transit the United States and meet U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, likely to much of China’s outrage.

China has bridled against countries having official ties with Taiwan which it claims as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties or statehood whatsoever, a position Taiwan strongly disputes. Beijing rendered it not only displeasing but impossible for the countries with which it has diplomatic relations to maintain official ties with the island state.

Initially, Castro raised the flag to see which voters would salute the idea of initiating relations with China at the expense of ties with Taiwan during her electoral campaign. The idea turned out well for her, giving her now occupying the presidential armchair, but in January 2022, the month when she was sworn in president, she tried to find a precarious middle ground expressing her hope that ties with Taiwan could be maintained.

“It’s a trap!”

Should the Central American country divorce Taiwan diplomatically, the island would be left with only 13 diplomatic allies amidst China’s steamrolling propaganda campaign designed to portray Taipei as a rogue entity with no right to arrogate sovereignty and independence.

A source familiar with the situation in Taiwan told Reuters Taiwan needed to exhaust “every possible means” to maintain diplomatic ties with Honduras.

The decision would likely affect the country’s relationship with its top trading partner – the U.S., opposition Honduran lawmaker Tomas Zambrano told local TV, adding that many families depend on remittances sent from the north.

The U.S. itself may have no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and yet it remains the island’s top international backer and arms supplier, which generates continuous friction in Sino-U.S. relations.

“We have to look at things very pragmatically and seek the best benefit for the Honduran people,” Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina told local TV on Tuesday.

Taking lawmaker questions in parliament on Wednesday, Chen Chin-kung, deputy head of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, said he “absolutely did not rule out” the possibility of China trying to exert pressure ahead of Tsai’s trip.

Taiwan has slammed China for what it has seen as inveigling its allies with pledges of massive amounts of loans. Beijing has denied it.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it had expressed serious concern to the Honduran government and urged it to consider its decision carefully and not “fall into China’s trap.”

China pleased with Honduras’ line

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry expressed a warm welcome of the Honduran president’s statement.

“China stands ready to establish diplomatic ties with countries in line with the One-China principle,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

For his part, Zhang Run, the Chinese ambassador to Mexico, tweeted earlier that the One-China principle, which holds that China and Taiwan are part of one country, is the consensus of the international community.

“Congratulations Honduras on this correct decision to embrace that principle! Hopefully, it will be fulfilled,” Zhang said.

El principio de una sola China es el consenso de la comunidad internacional y una de las normas básicas de las relaciones internacionales. ¡Felicidades Honduras por esta decisión correcta de abrazar ese principio! Ojalá que se cumpla.

— Zhang Run 张润 (@EmbZhangRun) March 15, 2023

Should Honduras break ties with Taiwan it would follow in the footsteps of Nicaragua which severed its longstanding relations with the island nation in December 2021, turncoating for China and declaring Taiwan “an inalienable part of the Chinese territory.”

This was done amidst encouragement from the U.S. State Department to maintain their ties with Taiwan. The department said Nicaragua’s decision did not reflect the will of the people as its government was not freely elected.

Paraguay could be next to ditch Taiwan and go full China, if its opposition wins the presidential election in late April. Paraguay would cut ties with Taiwan and open relations with China, the opposition’s presidential candidate Efrain Alegre has said, hoping to boost important soy and beef exports.

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