March 18 (Reuters) – The United States is trying to dissuade Honduras from following through with its plan to transfer diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, sources familiar with the matter say, hoping the lack of a formal agreement could still leave the door open to a change of heart.
The continued US diplomatic pressure comes after Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on Tuesday that his country would establish formal ties with China, following a promise it made during its presidential campaign in 2021. Then, in 2022, his government seemed to backtrack on politics. .
Officials and former officials from the United States and several Central American countries said Castro’s tentative announcement contrasted with how Latin American countries have tended to make public changes to the alliance. China to Taiwan.
“We really don’t know if it will be days, weeks or months,” a US government official told Reuters. “Is this a negotiation tactic? We’re not sure, but we’ll keep making our case.
Since 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan, Panama, El Salvador and, more recently, Nicaragua, have switched sides. All announced the change as a fait accompli.
“I got an hour head start, even after talking to the president about it,” said John Feeley, who was U.S. ambassador to Panama when the change took place in 2017.
In another unusual twist, the Honduran ambassador to Taiwan, Harold Burgos, met with Taiwanese foreign ministry officials on Wednesday after Castro’s announcement, which the Nicaraguan ambassador had refused to do when changing his position. his country in 2021, two diplomatic sources in Taipei said.
Reuters could not determine the outcome of the meeting, although Taiwan’s foreign ministry has publicly stated that it told Burgos that his country should “consider the matter carefully so as not to fall into the trap of China and make the wrong decision.”
China does not allow countries to have diplomatic relations with itself and Taiwan, considering the island as its territory. Beijing views Tsai as a separatist. For her part, she says Taiwanese must determine their own future.
US and Taiwanese officials said while the announcement was unsurprising given Castro’s campaign stance, the tweet and its timing caught them off guard.
Former and current US officials are quick to claim that many countries that have made the switch have not reaped the economic benefits they hoped for.
“Countries need to know that it’s not money for nothing and free chicks,” Feeley said, referencing a 1980s hit to Dire Straits, reiterating a point the US government has continued to make. argue that “the PRC over-promises and under-delivers”. “
China disputes that, and the country’s foreign ministry said Thursday that former Taiwan allies like Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have seen “rapid development” in bilateral relations, bringing them “benefits.” tangible”.
“If Honduras’s move to Beijing is formalized, Taiwan will only have 13 diplomatic allies left, including Belize and Guatemala.
Reporting by Sarah Kinosian in Mexico City and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Dave Graham and Lincoln Feast.
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