Honduras Likely to Follow Nicaragua in Cutting Taiwan Ties As China Courts Latin America

Honduras under newly elected leader Xiomara Castro is expected to follow Nicaragua in cutting ties with Taiwan, as Beijing ramps up efforts to sever Taipei's diplomatic ties with nations in Central America and the Caribbean.

Prior to her election victory, incoming Honduran President Castro, who is set to take office in January, pledged to "open diplomatic and commercial connections with mainland China." The country has maintained diplomatic ties with the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan for eight decades.

The Chinese regime considers Taiwan as a province of China although the island has its own constitution, liberal democratic political system, and military. Beijing in recent months has intensified political and military pressure on the island.

Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, took to Twitter on Wednesday to congratulate Castro on her election win, highlighting the decades-long relationship between the two nations.

"I look forward to working with you to benefit the people of our countries & strengthen the longstanding Taiwan–Honduras partnership," President Tsai Ing-wen wrote.

Castro, 62, from the Liberty and Refoundation Party, or Libre, responded: "Many thanks President Tsai Ing-wen."

Biden administration officials in November reportedly urged presidential candidates in Honduras to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Reuters reported.

A senior State Department official was quoted on November 24 as saying that the Biden administration has been "quite clear with all the key actors in Honduras why we think the Honduras-Taiwan relationship is so important."

"We'd like to see that continue. We've said that to both of the leading candidates directly," the State Department official told reporters in a telephone briefing.

China's Foreign Ministry responded on November 25 by accusing the U.S. of "arm-twisting and bullying behavior" that will "not will any hearts and minds."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Washington of "hegemonic behavior" in Central America.

"Two hundred years on, the United States is still dreaming the old dream and treating Latin American countries as within its sphere of influence," he said. "This bullying behavior is abhorred by Latin Americans and will surely fail."

Honduras is now one of 14 countries to recognize Taiwan, after Nicaragua on Thursday moved to cut ties with Taiwan, switching diplomatic allegiance to China.

"The government of the Republic of Nicaragua today breaks diplomatic relations with Taiwan and ceases to have any contact or official relationship," Nicaragua's Foreign Ministry said in a statement shortly after a meeting in Tianjin, China, between a Nicaraguan delegation and China's deputy foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu.

"The People's Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory."

Taiwan responded by expressing "heartfelt pain and regret" over the move.

"Long-standing friendship & successful cooperation benefiting the people of both countries were disregarded by the [Daniel] Ortega government. Taiwan remains unbowed & will continue as a force for good in the world," the ministry said in a statement published Thursday.

Beijing has since 2016 been ramping up its in influence in the region, pushing economic assistance, infrastructure development, and recently, COVID-19 vaccines as part of its efforts to win over nations.

Chen Chien-kai, chair of the Department of International Studies at Rhodes College in Tennessee, told Nikkei Asia that if China is successful in convincing countries to switch allegiance, it will cause a "huge diplomatic blow" to not only Taiwan but also the United States.

Xiomara Castro, Incoming President of Honduras
Xiomara Castro, incoming president of Honduras of the Free (Libre) Party, speaks at a press conference on November 28, 2021 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Castro pledged to “open diplomatic and commercial connections with mainland China.” APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images