Anger in Taiwan, boasting in China in wake of Honduras switch

Helen Davidson

Honduras’ decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China has left Taiwan reeling, with accusations of “dollar diplomacy” being levelled at Beijing.

Honduras has for the last 82 years recognised the government in Taipei rather than Beijing. But after more than a week of negotiations, its foreign ministry on Sunday brought that to an end, announcing it had cut ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) and signed on with the People’s Republic of China.

In its statement it also said “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory”, a PRC claim which is not formally recognised by all of its allies, some of which – like the US – instead only acknowledge that Beijing holds such a claim.

The switch, which leaves just 13 countries recognising Taiwan, sparked furious denouncements from Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of engaging in “dollar diplomacy” on Sunday.

The switch followed negotiations with China on building a hydroelectric dam in Honduras, and there had been reported claims of demands by Honduras for billions of dollars in aid.

Taiwan is recalling staff from its Honduras embassy and consulate, the ministry of foreign affairs said, and demanded Honduras immediately close its Taipei embassy.

On Monday, the story was covered extensively in Taiwanese media. The island’s politics and media is hyper-partisan and the switch – the ninth since Tsai took office in May 2016 – was seized upon by the opposition to criticise her foreign policy platform.

Tsai’s government was labeled “incompetent” by the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation, a Taiwanese organisation founded by Taiwan’s former president. Ma, who remains closely tied to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, will visit China this week. The controversial visit will be the first by a former or current leader of Taiwan to China since the KMT government of China fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the civil war. The KMT is also opposed to Chinese rule over Taiwan but favours friendlier cross-strait relations. The foundation said Honduras’s switch demonstrated the urgency of a Ma’s visit to “repair” broken ties with China.

Media more closely aligned with the ruling DPP focused on the financial aspect of the switch, and government claims that Beijing was “exploiting” the need of some Latin American countries’ for infrastructure.”

Many of Taiwan’s allies receive financial assistance, or have access to Taiwan’s medical system or scholarships at Taiwanese universities. China has reportedly used a mix of inducements including financial aid and investment, and coercive suggestions, including restrictions on Chinese tourists to countries, to convince them to switch.

China’s state media celebrated the switch, with extensive coverage. Official state news outlet, Xinhua, said it had sent a team of reporters to Honduras to write about the country.

Nationalistic tabloid, the Global Times called the switch embarrassing for Tsai and “ironclad proof” that Taiwan independence is “a dead end”. China Daily accused critics of colonialist condescension and said Tsai was violating international norms and this proved it. It framed the switch around Honduras seeing through “Washington’s bullying diplomacy”.

The People’s Daily said the switch was “above board and a historical trend that cannot be stopped by anyone or any force”.

Taiwan is now left with just 13 diplomatic allies. In April Paraguay goes to an election, with an opposition party promising to switch ties to Beijing if it takes office.

Beijing claims Taiwan as a province of China, and says it intends to annex it. Recent years have seen an increase in diplomatic and military efforts to isolate Taiwan on the world stage, intimidate its government and people into surrender, and warn off others from defending it.

However the US and other allies including Australia, Japan, and some European nations, have increased support for Taiwan and its defence, despite not recognising it as a country.

A 150-person Czech delegation visited Taiwan on Monday, led by the speaker of the European country’s lower house of parliament, Marketa Pekarova Adamova.

“Taiwan is not only an important economic partner but also a friendly and democratic partner and deserves our attention and support,” Pekarova Adamova told a Taiwan-Czech business forum.

Beijing does not generally allow its diplomatic allies to also recognise Taiwan. On Sunday Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu suggested Taiwan was open to “dual recognition”, taking no issue with governments which wanted to recognise both countries.

On Sunday Tsai accused China of using “any and all means to suppress Taiwan’s international participation, intensify its military intimidations against Taiwan, and disrupt regional peace and stability”.

(Source: The Guardian)