TAIPEI, Taiwan — Honduras has severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China, dealing a blow to Taipei’s international standing and Washington’s diplomatic efforts in Central America.
The diplomatic win for China further reduced the small number of countries that have ties with Taiwan, the island democracy that Beijing claims as its territory. The decision was announced in a statement by theHonduran Foreign Ministry on Saturday.
While not directly addressing Honduras’s move away from Taiwan, Honduran government officials had said days earlier that forging closer links with China was vital to improving the country’s ailing economy.
“What we are seeking to establish through the relationship with China is to achieve investment to overcome the challenges facing the country,” Rodolfo Pastor de María y Campos, the Honduran secretary of state, told reporters, noting that the country is saddled with more than $20 billion in debt.
“If we do not manage to improve and get out of that debt, we Hondurans will be paying for generations to come,” he said.
The foreign ministry’s statement Saturday was blunt, saying in part: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and, as of today, the government of Honduras has communicated to Taiwan the severance of diplomatic relations, pledging not to have any further official relations or contact with Taiwan.”
The establishment of China-Honduras relations comes days before Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, was set to visit Belize and Guatemala, Taiwan’s two remaining Latin American allies, to bolster ties. President Tsai will depart Taiwan on Wednesday on a trip that will also include stops in the United States, which Beijing has protested.
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China demands that countries with which it has diplomatic relations drop their recognition of Taiwan. Since Ms. Tsai took office in 2016, it has been peeling away the number of diplomatic allies that recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Beijing cut official contacts with Ms. Tsai’s government because she has refused to state that Taiwan and China are both part of the same country.
Only 12 countries and the Vatican now recognize Taiwan, down from 21 in early 2017. The last time that Taiwan lost a diplomatic ally was in 2021, when Nicaragua established diplomatic relations with China.
“It is definitely a huge blow,” said Lu Yeh-chung, a professor of the department of diplomacy of National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Formal diplomatic relations with small countries are still very meaningful for Taiwan’s international status.”
When the Honduran president, Xiomara Castro, ran for president two years ago, she pledged to establish ties with Beijing.
“I intend to open international relations with mainland China, which will help the country to join the world’s fastest growing market,” she said in 2021.
This month, Ms. Castro announced on Twitter that Honduras intended to break ties with Taiwan, saying that she had instructed her country’s foreign minister to build official relations with China.
China and its investors have already shown a clear interest, financing a hydroelectric dam and exploring rail and port projects in the country.
The decision by Honduras is a setback in Washington’s efforts to use its influence in Central America to help prevent China from isolating Taiwan on the global stage. The State Department said that President Biden sent an envoy, Christopher J. Dodd, to Honduras this month, a trip announced after Honduras indicated it would switch ties.
“It’s easy for Washington to become upset when countries like Honduras switch their alliance from Taiwan to Beijing,” said Mitch Hayes, an expert on China’s relations with Latin America and director of Veracity Worldwide, a political risk consulting firm in New York. “But they really need to understand that it is quite a rational strategy for a small country and emergent economies to engage with. We can expect to see more of this in the coming years.”
China and Taiwan have long engaged in what some analysts have described as “checkbook diplomacy” to court countries by providing aid and loans. Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, said at a meeting of the legislature on Thursday that Honduras had demanded a “high price” from Taiwan.
Antonio García, the foreign vice minister of Honduras, in an interview on Friday, confirmed that since last September Honduras had requested $2 billion in loans at least four different times during meetings and dinners with Taiwanese officials.
“The approach was, ‘Help us, we have to deliver results, it’s going to be a relief. We are not asking you to give us anything for free; we are going to pay you back,’” Mr. García said, adding that the loan would have been used to pay off part of the country’s debt.
Mr. García said he participated in two discussions with Taiwanese officials about a loan and each time received a noncommittal response.
“They listened attentively and told us that they were going to make the respective consultations with the foreign ministry in Taipei,” he said.
In the days before the official break in ties, Taiwan’s foreign ministry had said that it had expressed “serious concern” to Honduras about the news of its decision and warned the country about the risk of taking China’s money.
“We want to remind the Honduras government that since it has been plagued by debt problems, don’t drink poison to quench its thirst, or it will fall into China’s debt trap,” said Jeff Liu, a spokesman of Taiwan’s foreign ministry, in a news briefing last week.
Edward Wong contributed reporting.