TEGUCIGALPA (AP) — The government of Honduran President Xiomara Castro severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan on Saturday to establish official ties with China, in a move that analysts say could have consequences for the Central American country.
Chinese and Honduran foreign ministers signed a joint statement in Beijing, a decision the Chinese foreign ministry described as “the right decision.”RELATED
The change came amid rising tensions between Beijing and the United States, among other reasons over China’s growing aggressiveness over self-ruled Taiwan, and points to rising Chinese influence in Latin America. The new relationship between the two countries was announced after separate statements from the governments of Honduras and Taiwan about the break.
On instructions from the president, Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina “has communicated to Taiwan the decision to break diplomatic relations,” the Central American country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement.
“Honduras recognizes the existence of only one China in the world” and “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory,” he added. The Central American country undertakes “to never again have any relationship or contact of an official nature” with that territory, he pointed out.
Honduras is the fifth Central American country to strengthen ties with China, the world’s second largest economy after the United States.
Belize and Guatemala are the only nations in the region that have ties to Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory. The Honduran decision was broadcast on Sunday by the Chinese state television CCTV
The Honduran Foreign Ministry made its announcement about the end of 82 years of relations with Taiwan when President Castro was participating in the XXVIII Ibero-American Summit in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.
At the moment, Tegucigalpa and Beijing have not reported a date for the official concretion of diplomatic ties, for which they have already started talks.
In Taiwan, local Foreign Minister Joseph Wu confirmed Sunday (still Saturday in the Americas) that Taiwan had ended its ties with Honduras to “safeguard its sovereignty and dignity.”
In a press conference, Wu said that Castro and his team always had a “fantasy” about China and had raised the change of relations before the 2021 presidential elections in Honduras.
Relations between Taiwan and Honduras were stable in the past, he noted, but “China did not stop attracting Honduras.”
Honduras had asked Taiwan for billions of dollars in aid and compared its proposals with China, the foreign minister added.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said her government would not “get into a meaningless dollar diplomacy fight with China.”
“In recent years, China has persistently employed various means to stifle Taiwan’s international involvement, escalate military intrusion, and disrupt peace and stability in the region,” he said in a video message.
His spokeswoman Olivial Lin said in a statement that relations between the two parties had lasted for more than 80 years.
Honduran analyst Graco Pérez told The Associated Press that Tegucigalpa’s decision was not the best at a time when China has bitter tensions with Western countries, including the United States, one of Taiwan’s main allies, and Honduras.
“For me it is a sign that they are handing over sovereignty and the implications of that relationship with China will be very great. They (the Honduran government) are going to talk to us about benefits, a lot of money, projects, investment, job creation, but they are going to be just illusions,” she said.
In the analyst’s opinion, the experience in other countries shows that relations with China “do not end up being what was really offered” and will bring about, according to him, a cooling of relations with traditional historical allies, the United States, Europe “and all the countries facing Russia and China.
“Another thing is that they lied to us (the Government of Honduras) is with the scholarship holders, they told us that they would study on a case-by-case basis, but when there is a break, they know that all the projects and scholarships that the Taiwan government is financing are immediately suspended,” Perez pointed out.
Honduras has nearly 200 undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral scholarship holders in Taiwan who would have to return to the country without finishing their studies, upon consummation of the break in relations with Taiwan.
The Honduran foreign minister said days ago on Twitter that “the Honduran government is studying the situation of the 175 Honduran scholarship holders in Taiwan based on a case-by-case analysis, to provide solutions and options so that their study opportunities are not affected.”
Nicolle Wood, one of the scholarship recipients in Taiwan, told the AP that they have already been informed that by breaking relations with Honduras they would immediately lose their scholarships.
“We don’t know what we are going to do, we hope that the Government of Honduras will support us to finish our studies,” Wood declared.
President Castro ordered the foreign minister last week to begin negotiations for the establishment of diplomatic relations with China to “expand the borders freely in concert with the nations of the world.” Reina traveled to Beijing last Thursday to begin these efforts.
The loss of Honduras would leave Taiwan with formal diplomatic ties to 13 sovereign states, including the Vatican. In Latin America it also has ties to Belize, Guatemala and Paraguay, and most of its other partners are island nations in the Caribbean and the South Pacific, as well as Eswatini in southern Africa.
Honduras would become the ninth diplomatic ally Taipei has lost to Beijing since pro-independence President Tsai came to power in May 2016. She is scheduled to step down next year, when her second term ends.
Despite China’s isolation campaign, Taiwan maintains a robust informal relationship with more than 100 other countries, especially the United States.
China and Taiwan have been locked in a standoff over Taipei’s diplomatic recognition since the two sides broke up during the civil war in 1949, and Beijing has spent billions of dollars to get its “One China” policy recognized.
This investment, which has brought influence and more and more Chinese allies in Latin America, has been reflected in Honduras in a hydroelectric dam project in the center of the country built by the Chinese firm SINOHYDRO, with some 300 million dollars in financing from the chinese government.
China says Taiwan is part of its territory, to be taken back by force if necessary, and rejects most contacts with countries that have formal ties to the democratically-ruled island. It threatens retaliation against nations that increase their contacts with Taipei.