The ongoing visit to Honduras by a high-profile trade delegation from Taiwan casts significant doubt over the likelihood of the Honduran government recognizing China, as was widely expected following the election of President Xiomara Castro in November 2021.
The visit represents a major boost for Honduras – Taiwan relations, given the questions hanging over them since the election of Castro, who had pledged to switch allegiance to China on the campaign trail.
The delegation of Taiwanese investors and seafood buyers has met prominent Honduran officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular and Migratory Affairs Tony Garcia, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Laura Elena Suazo, Secretary of Investment Miguel Medina, and Secretary of Economic Development Pedro Barquero.
“The friendship between the Government of Taiwan and Honduras is historic and needs to be further strengthened to work together to ensure that we can face the challenges of the world,” Barquero was reported as saying by local press, in what seems a clear sign that the Castro administration intends to continue to recognize the island democracy.
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According to the Honduran foreign ministry, the trip was arranged for Taiwanese investors to explore “new investment opportunities in the economic and industrial sectors,” while investment in Honduras’ large seafood industry is also a key matter being discussed.
Frozen shrimp and prawns are among the Central American country’s top three exports by value.
The delegation, made up of 28 Taiwanese investors representing 17 companies, is being accompanied by Vivia Chang, Taiwan’s ambassador to Honduras, and Tsai Yun-Chung, director general of the department of international cooperation and economic affairs at the Taiwanese foreign ministry.
“This visit will allow us to lay the foundations for long-term, reciprocal and sustainable trade relations,” Chang was quoted as saying.
Honduras one of few LatAm countries to still recognize Taiwan
Honduras is one of the few remaining countries in Latin America to recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) over the People’s Republic of China (China), with the latter having waged an aggressive diplomatic campaign in the region over recent years to pressure countries to switch.
That has seen Panama, El Salvador, and Nicaragua all choose to recognize China in the last five years, with Nicaragua switching in late 2021. That marks a major shift in Central America, which was once a bastion of support for Taiwan.
The choice to switch has tended to come under the promise of major investment from China, which has increased its influence in Latin America significantly over recent decades. Costa Rica recognized China at the expense of Taiwan in 2007.
That leaves just Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay among mainland Latin American countries that recognize Taiwan, with Paraguay reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic that shipments of China’s Sinovac vaccine were canceled after the South American country refused to switch allegiance.
With the four Caribbean nations of Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines also continuing to recognize Taiwan, in total eight of the remaining 14 states in the world that recognize Taiwan are located in the Western Hemisphere.
Under the government of Castro’s predecessor Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduras had previously been staunch in its ongoing recognition of Taiwan, with then-Foreign Minister Lisandro Rosales reaffirming the Central American country’s support on Taiwan National Day, less than two months before the election that brought Castro to power.
Taiwan – Honduras relationship important to the island democracy
Taiwan’s current complicated relationship with China traces back to the 1940’s, with China’s nationalist Kuomintang government taking control of the island in 1945, after Japan’s wartime occupation came to an end, and subsequently relocating there in 1949 after losing control of the mainland during the Chinese Civil War that brought the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to power.
No transfer of territorial sovereignty was ever completed, and the CCP has always insisted that Taiwan will one day come under its rule. Today, China regularly refers to Taiwan as a “renegade province.”
While governance of the island was marked by corruption and undemocratic practices between the 1950s and 1990s, Taiwan has been a functioning democracy since it held its first presidential election by direct vote in 1996, with polls held every four years since.
In the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, published by corruption watchdog Transparency International in January 2022, Taiwan ranked 25th among 180 jurisdictions, with a score of 68 out of 100 – placing as less corrupt than the likes of the United States, South Korea, and Spain.
China, meanwhile, ranked 66th, with its considerably worse score of 45 being one point lower than Cuba.
With just 14 countries around the world today recognizing Taiwan, the maintainance of those ties is crucial to the island’s government in its quest to retain legitimacy on the global stage, meaning that preserving relationships with even tiny states is of major importance.
That makes Taiwan’s relationship with Honduras and its other remaining Latin American allies particularly important, given that they are among the largest economies to continue to offer recognition.
While all of the countries in Latin America that recognize Taiwan have apparently come under pressure from China to switch allegiance, their government’s have continued to publicly express support for the island.
In November 2021, Belize’s House of Representatives Speaker Valerie Woods outlined the Central American country’s ongoing and “steadfast” support for Taiwan, at a time when speculation about Honduras switching allegience was widespread, following Castro’s election win.
Soon after, in the wake of Nicaragua’s announcement that it was switching to recognize China, the Paraguayan government made clear that its support for Taiwan would remain ongoing.
More recently, during an interview given in June, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamettei stated that his country – the largest economy in the world to still recognize Taiwan – would not waver in its support.
“While I am president, I recognize one China and it is called Taiwan,” he was quoted as saying.
With Honduras – Taiwan relations also remaining firm, it appears that, at least for now, Latin American will continue to be the strongest source of recognition for the island.
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