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China opens ties with Honduras, Taiwan decries monetary demands

BEIJING/TEGUCIGALPA/TAIPEI – China established diplomatic ties with Honduras on Sunday after the Central American country ended its decades-long relationship with Taiwan, while Taiwan’s foreign minister accused Honduras of demanding exorbitant sums before being lured away by Beijing.

The ending of ties with Taiwan had been expected after the Honduran foreign minister traveled to China last week to open relations and President Xiomara Castro said her government would start ties with Beijing.

China said its foreign minister, Qin Gang, and Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina signed the deal on diplomatic recognition in Beijing, ending relations with Taiwan dating back to the 1940s.

In a brief statement late on Saturday, the Honduran foreign ministry said it recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate government that represents all of China and that Taiwan is an “inseparable part of Chinese territory”.

China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties, a position Taipei strongly rejects. China demands that countries with which it has ties to recognise its position.

Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Ms. Castro, who took office early last year, and her government had “always had illusions” about China and China’s “luring” had never stopped.

“The foreign ministry and embassy grasped the relevant information and handled it carefully. However, the Castro government also asked us for billions of dollars in huge economic assistance and compared prices for assistance programmes provided by Taiwan and China,” Mr. Wu said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, in a video statement, said Taiwan will not compete with China in “meaningless” dollar diplomacy.

“Taiwan’s people have proved to the world that we never cower from threats. Taiwan’s cooperation and links with allies and like-minded countries to jointly promote international well-being and security will only increase, not decrease,” she said.

Neither the Chinese nor the Honduran statements made mention of aid.

Mr. Wu said Mr. Reina wrote to Taiwan on March 13, the day before Ms. Castro’s original announcement, demanding a total of $2.45 billion in aid, including the construction of a hospital and a dam and to write off debt. “It felt like what they wanted was money, not a hospital,” Mr. Wu said.

Ms. Reina told Reuters last week the $2.5 billion figure was “not a donation” but rather “a negotiated refinancing mechanism”.

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Ms. Tsai is due to depart on a sensitive visit to the United States, Guatemala and Belize on Wednesday. She is expected to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles at the end of the trip.

Mr. Wu said he was “highly suspicious” of the timing of the Honduran decision so close to Ms. Tsai’s overseas tour. “China seems to be doing this intentionally,” he said.

The United States has been watching with concern as China expands its footprint in its backyard by taking away Taiwan’s Central American allies, and has repeatedly warned countries not to believe China’s promises of aid.

The US State Department said while the Honduran action was a sovereign decision, it was important to note China “often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled”. 

“Regardless of Honduras’ decision, the United States will continue to deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan,” it said in a statement.

Relations between Honduras and Taiwan date back to 1941 when the government of the Republic of China, which remains Taiwan’s official name, was still in China before it fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists.

Taiwan now only has formal diplomatic relations with 13 countries, mostly poor and developing countries in Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. — Reuters

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