Honduras on Sunday established diplomatic relations with China and ended its recognition of Taiwan, sparking outrage among Taiwanese leaders who said the Central American nation had demanded “billions of dollars” to continue backing the island democracy on the international stage.
The development expands China’s sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere and shrinks international support for Taiwan. It also comes amid worsening U.S.-China relations and a widening battle for global influence between Washington and Beijing that some analysts have described as Cold War 2.0.
With Taiwan now recognized diplomatically by just 13 nations around the world, regional experts say Honduras’ move represents a key symbolic victory for the communist regime in Beijing, which considers the independently governed Taiwan to be part of China’s sovereign territory.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned during recent years of China’s expanding influence in Latin America, where Beijing has reportedly promised major aid packages to several countries in exchange for their commitments to abandon relations with Taiwan.
Similar concerns about China’s growing influence also extend to other corners of the world, with U.S. officials expressing wariness that Beijing is using its increasing military and financial clout to challenge American leadership from the Middle East to Africa, Europe and Asia.
Recent weeks saw Beijing broker a restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Chinese President Xi Jinping made global headlines by traveling to Moscow in a show of solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the United States and other Western democracies.
The prospect that Beijing could emerge as a broker of peace in Ukraine has triggered frustration in Washington, while direct U.S.-China tension has soared since last month’s shooting down by the U.S. military of a suspected Chinese spy balloon discovered over the U.S. homeland.
The status of Taiwan has also been an increasingly heated friction point since August, when China responded to a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest U.S. official to travel to Taipei in a quarter century — by dramatically expanding the scope of its military drills and missile tests near the island.
The Biden administration has responded with increased U.S. military moves in the Pacific, ramping up joint exercises with America’s democratic allies on China’s periphery, including South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.
With that as a backdrop, China is seen to be increasing its own efforts to expand its activities in America’s backyard, if only to undercut regional support for Taiwan among Latin American nations.
Top Chinese and Honduran diplomats announced the new diplomatic relationship between the two nations by signing a joint communique Sunday in Beijing — a decision the Chinese Foreign Ministry hailed as “the right choice,” according to The Associated Press.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu suggested Honduras had made the decision only after attempting to draw a bribe from Taiwanese officials to maintain ties with the island democracy.
Ultimately, Taiwan refused in order to “safeguard its sovereignty and dignity,” Mr. Wu told reporters at a news conference in Taipei, asserting that Honduran President Xiomara Castro had been lured by China.
The Castro government “asked us for billions of dollars in huge economic assistance and compared prices for assistance programs provided by Taiwan and China,” the Taiwanese foreign minister said.
Taiwan’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen separately said her government would not “engage in a meaningless contest of dollar diplomacy with China.”
“Over these past few years, China has persistently used various means to suppress Taiwan’s international participation, escalate military intrusion, and disrupt peace and stability in the region,” Ms. Tsai said in a recorded video.
The issue of Taiwan’s status has become more vexing for Washington since 2019, when the Xi government in Beijing began saying that it reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control if necessary.
“There is but one China in the world,” China’s Foreign Ministry said last year following the Pelosi visit to Taiwan. “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
A subsequent spike in Chinese military exercises near Taiwan sparked debate within the Biden administration about the long-held U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” of what exactly the U.S. military would do to protect the island democracy from an invasion.
President Biden has publicly said U.S. forces would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by mainland China.
At the same time, however, administration officials have said the United States remains committed to the “One China” policy, under which Washington has long acknowledged Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China, even though the U.S. maintains informal diplomatic relations and substantial defense ties with Taipei and does not technically recognize Chinese sovereignty over it.
Taiwan and the U.S. have close economic ties. American companies rely heavily on Taiwan, the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductor chips, which are vital to the production of smartphones, laptop computers, refrigerators and other everyday goods. The U.S. defense industry also relies on the chips.
Following Sunday’s China-Honduras announcement, the State Department vowed to increase support for Taiwan.
While U.S. officials said Honduras has a sovereign right to decide whether to align with China or Taiwan, the department warned in a statement that Beijing “often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled.”
“Regardless of Honduras’ decision, the United States will continue to deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan,” the department said, according to Reuters.
The news agency noted that relations between Honduras and Taiwan had dated back to 1941 when the government of the Republic of China, which remains Taiwan’s official name, was still in China before it fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists.
Honduras is the ninth diplomatic ally that Taipei has lost to Beijing since the Tsai government took office in 2016. Reuters noted that Taiwan now only has formal diplomatic relations with 13 countries, mostly poor and developing countries in Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Taiwan still has ties with Belize, Paraguay and Guatemala in Latin America, and Vatican City. Most of its remaining partners are island nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific, along with Eswatini in southern Africa.
For decades China has funneled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across Latin America. That investment has translated to rising power for China and a growing number of allies.
In Honduras, the projects have included the construction of a hydroelectric dam project built by the Chinese company SINOHYDRO with about $300 million in Chinese government financing.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.