US leans on Honduras to reconsider China switch, hopes for redress

US leans on Honduras to reconsider China switch, hopes for redress

By Sarah Kinosian and Ben Blanchard

(Reuters) – The United States is trying to dissuade Honduras from pursuing a plan to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, sources close to the matter said, adding that the lack of a formal agreement could still leave the door open for change. The ongoing US diplomatic pressure comes as Honduran President Xiamara Castro said Tuesday that his country would establish formal ties with China, following through on a promise he made in his 2021 presidential campaign. Then, in 2022, his government appeared to backtrack on the policy. . Officials and former officials from the United States and several Central American countries said Castro’s tentative announcement contrasted with the way Latin American countries have tended to publicly shift alliances from China to Taiwan. “We really don’t know if it will be days or weeks or months,” a US government official told Reuters on background. “Is this a negotiating ploy? We don’t know for sure, but we will continue our case.” Since 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan, Panama, El Salvador and most recently Nicaragua have switched sides. All heralded the switch as a rough match.

John Feeley, who was the US ambassador to Panama in 2017, said, “I got my head up for an hour, even after I talked to the president about it.”

In another unusual twist, Honduran Ambassador to Taiwan Harold Burgos met with Taiwan’s foreign ministry officials on Wednesday following Castro’s announcement that he had refused to become Nicaragua’s ambassador during his country’s transition in 2021, two diplomatic sources in Taipei said.

Reuters could not confirm the outcome of the meeting, although Taiwan’s foreign ministry publicly said it told Burgos that his country should “consider the matter carefully so as not to fall into China’s trap and make a flawed decision.” China considers the island as its territory and does not allow countries to have diplomatic relations with it and Taiwan. Beijing considers Tsai a separatist. For his part, he said the people of Taiwan must decide their own future.

Both U.S. and Taiwanese officials said that while the announcement was not surprising given the position of Castro’s campaign, the tweet and its timing caught them off guard. Former and current US officials are quick to argue that many countries that have made the switch have not reaped the economic benefits they had hoped for. “Countries should know it’s not about money and it’s not about free chicks,” Filley said, referring to the Dire Straits conflict of the 1980s, with the US government reiterating a point that “the PRC over-promises and under-delivers”. China opposes this, and the country’s foreign ministry said Thursday that Taiwan’s former allies such as Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have seen “rapid development” in bilateral relations, bringing them “ideal benefits”. While Honduras will formalize the transition in Beijing, Taiwan’s Belize and Guatemala including only 13 diplomatic allies.

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian in Mexico City and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Dave Graham and Lincoln Feist.)

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