Honduras ditching Taiwan for China, raising larger geopolitical concerns
Honduras’ decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China is yet another sign of growing Chinese influence in Latin America.
For decades, the Asian superpower funnelled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across the region. Now, as geopolitical tensions simmer between China and the Biden administration, that spending has paid off.
Honduras’ decision, announced on March 14, was the second foreign policy coup for China, which brokered an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish diplomatic relations the previous week.
Now, Taiwan will be recognised by only 13 countries. But some of the few remaining in Latin America, like Paraguay and Guatemala, have promised to keep their support for Taiwan.
Honduras’ Minister of Foreign Relations, Enrique Reina, told The Associated Press that Hondurans “are grateful” for their past relationship with Taiwan, but that their economic links to China ultimately pushed their government to cut diplomatic ties.
“These are political decisions. The world has been moving in this direction,” Reina said. “It is a complex decision, we understand, but Honduras’ foreign policy should seek to benefit the people. We believe that this step will benefit the country.”
The Central American nation follows the steps of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic in turning their backs on Taiwan.
Honduras’ announcement on March 14 was a blow to the Biden administration, which has rather fruitlessly tried to persuade countries in the region to stick with Taiwan.
Taiwan, an ally of the United States, has pushed for sovereignty at the same time that Chinese President Xi Jinping has insisted the island is firmly under its control.
In that sense, Honduras’ announcement also exemplified that the American government is “losing it’s grasp on” Latin America, said David Castrillon-Kerrigan, research-professor on China-related issues at Colombia’s Externado University.
“For countries like Honduras, not recognising the government in Beijing meant missing opportunities,” said Castrillon-Kerrigan. The United States “is definitely losing influence on every front, especially the economic front, but also diplomatically, politically and culturally”, he said.
Reina said the Biden administration “must understand and respect” Honduras’ needs and decisions.
Over the past two decades, China has slowly carved out a space for itself in Latin America by pouring money into the region, investing in major infrastructure, energy and space projects.
Between 2005 and 2020, the Chinese have invested more than US$130 billion in Latin America, according to the United States Institute of Peace. Trade between China and the region has also shot up, and is expected to top US$700 billion by 2035.
That investment has translated into rising power for China and a growing number of allies.
In Honduras, that has come in the form of construction of a hydroelectric dam project in central Honduras, built by the Chinese company Sinohydro with about US$300 million in Chinese government financing.
The US government, meanwhile, has not stepped in with similarly sized projects.
While many view the Chinese investment as a positive step for nations that often struggle to pull together funds for development, some, like June Teufel, professor of political science at the University of Miami, worry about the long-term ripple effects rising Chinese power could have.
In many countries across in Africa and Latin America, Chinese investment has been marred by mounting debt in developing nations. In many cases, infrastructure projects can only be repaired by Chinese companies, racking up a higher bill, said Teufel.
“It’s a little bit like the drug dealer saying to the potential customer, the first dose is free,” Teufel said. “It gets another country abandoning Taiwan, which is something it (China) has been wanting to do for a long time – depriving Taiwan of all its remaining allies.”