By Fatima Romero
This week, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei traveled to Taipei to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, seeking to strengthen diplomatic relations with the island.
The four-day visit has drawn the ire of China, which considers democratic Taiwan – home to 23.5 million people – part of its territory that will one day be retaken and does not allow other countries to recognize it.
Latin America, primarily the Central American Integration System (SICA) region, has been a key diplomatic battleground for China and Taiwan since they split in 1949 following a civil war.
Beijing has spent decades convincing Taipei’s diplomatic allies to switch sides, winning over five of eight from Central America since Tsai took office in 2016.
Costa Rica severed ties with Taiwan in 2007. Panama recognized China in 2017, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic in 2018, Nicaragua in 2021, and Honduras in March 2023.
CHINA AND TAIWAN’S ALLIES
Before leaving for Taiwan, Giammattei said that during his visit to Taiwan, he would send a very clear message to the world that countries have the right to govern themselves” and “their territories will not be threatened.”
The trip comes three weeks after the Taiwanese president arrived in Guatemala and Belize and made stops in New York and California in the face of rejection by Chinese authorities.
After Honduras announced, it would establish diplomatic relations with China, Taiwan no longer plays dollar diplomacy because it cannot outspend Beijing to win friends.
However, even if Taiwan cannot give more money than China for diplomatic recognition, it still has the opportunity to emphasize other values to keep the flickering flame of international recognition burning, said Isabel Bernhard, assistant director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of Atlantic Council, in a report to Foreign Policy.
Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Taiwan needs to find its niche: using its history of economic and democratic development to continue to attract its remaining diplomatic allies, many of whom are developing small island states.
“It may not do infrastructure in the same way that the PRC does, but it develops human capital and talent in a way that the PRC doesn’t,” Berg added.
TENSION BETWEEN CHINA AND TAIWAN
The United States views with concern the growing international isolation of the Republic of China (Taiwan), to the extent of encouraging countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and even Oceania not to change diplomatic recognition.
Washington has also been alert to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Recently, a group of US lawmakers met in a committee room on Capitol Hill, pretending to advise the president following a hypothetical Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
The new House China committee members spent over two hours brainstorming possible scenarios and working through the first month of imagined fighting.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who heads the committee, said the war game demonstrated “disastrous economic consequences” for the global economy if China tries to seize the autonomous island by force from the island, according to remarks compiled by Bloomberg.
With information from Bloomberg