- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2023

Honduras on Sunday established diplomatic relations with China and ended its recognition of Taiwan, sparking outrage among Taiwanese leaders who said the Central American nation had demanded “billions of dollars” to continue backing the island democracy on the international stage.

The development expands China’s sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere and shrinks international support for Taiwan while U.S.-Chinese relations worsen. Some analysts have described the U.S.-Chinese battle for global influence as Cold War 2.0.

Taiwan is now recognized diplomatically by just 13 nations. Analysts say Honduras delivered a key symbolic victory to the communist regime in Beijing, which considers the independently governed Taiwan to be part of China’s sovereign territory.

U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned in recent years about China’s expanding influence in Latin America. Beijing has reportedly promised major aid packages to several countries in exchange for commitments to abandon relations with Taiwan.

U.S. officials also have expressed wariness that Beijing is using its increasing military and financial clout to challenge American leadership in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Beijing brokered a restoration of diplomatic ties earlier this month between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Chinese President Xi Jinping made global headlines last week by traveling to Moscow in a show of solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the United States and other Western democracies.

The prospect that Beijing could emerge as a broker of peace in Ukraine has triggered frustration in Washington. Bilateral tension has soared since the U.S. military’s downing last month of a suspected Chinese spy balloon discovered over the U.S. homeland.

The status of Taiwan has been an increasingly heated friction point since August when China responded to a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest U.S. official to travel to Taipei in a quarter century — by dramatically expanding the scope of its military drills and missile tests near the island.

The Biden administration has responded with increased U.S. military moves in the Pacific and ramped-up joint exercises with democratic allies on China’s periphery, including South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.

China appears to be increasing efforts to expand its activities in America’s backyard if only to undercut regional support for Taiwan among Latin American nations.

Top Chinese and Honduran diplomats announced the new diplomatic relationship by signing a joint communique Sunday in Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Honduras made “the right choice,” according to The Associated Press.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu suggested that Honduras made the decision after attempting to bribe the island democracy to maintain ties.

Taiwan ultimately decided to “safeguard its sovereignty and dignity,” Mr. Wu told reporters at a news conference in Taipei. He said Chinese officials had lured Honduran President Xiomara Castro.

The Castro government “asked us for billions of dollars in huge economic assistance and compared prices for assistance programs provided by Taiwan and China,” the Taiwanese foreign minister said.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen separately said her government would not “engage in a meaningless contest of dollar diplomacy with China.”

“Over these past few years, China has persistently used various means to suppress Taiwan’s international participation, escalate military intrusion, and disrupt peace and stability in the region,” Ms. Tsai said in a recorded video.

The issue of Taiwan’s status has become more vexing for Washington since 2019 when the Xi government began saying it reserves the right to use force to bring the island under its control if necessary.

“There is but one China in the world,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said last year after Mrs. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”

A subsequent spike in Chinese military exercises near Taiwan sparked debate within the Biden administration about the long-held U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” of what exactly the U.S. military would do to protect the island democracy from an invasion.

President Biden has said publicly that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from mainland China.

At the same time, however, administration officials have said the United States remains committed to the “One China” policy, under which Washington has long acknowledged Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China, even though the U.S. maintains informal diplomatic relations and substantial defense ties with Taipei and does not technically recognize Chinese sovereignty over it.

Taiwan and the U.S. have close economic ties. American companies rely heavily on Taiwan, the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductor chips, which are vital to the production of smartphones, laptop computers, refrigerators and other everyday goods. The U.S. defense industry also relies on the chips.

After the Chinese-Honduran announcement Sunday, the State Department vowed to increase support for Taiwan.

U.S. officials said Honduras has a sovereign right to decide whether to align with China or Taiwan but warned in a statement that Beijing “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,” the department said, according to Reuters.

The news agency noted that relations between Honduras and Taiwan dated back to 1941. In 1949, Nationalist forces on the mainland fled to the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists.

Honduras is the ninth diplomatic ally that Taipei has lost to Beijing since the Tsai government took office in 2016. The 13 remaining governments with formal diplomatic relations are mostly in poor and developing countries.

Taiwan still has ties with Belize, Paraguay and Guatemala in Latin America, and Vatican City. Most of its remaining partners are island nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific, along with Eswatini in southern Africa.

For decades, China has funneled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across Latin America. That investment has translated to rising power for China and a growing number of allies.

In Honduras, the projects have included the construction of a hydroelectric dam by Sinohydro with about $300 million in Chinese government financing.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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