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The United States and Taiwan seen powerless to stem the island’s diplomatic losses in Latin America

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By Michael Martina, Matt Spetalnick and Daniela Desantis

WASHINGTON/ASUNCION (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – As China seeks to further narrow down the list of seven countries in the Americas that still recognize Taiwan, US officials increasingly believe Paraguay could be the island’s next diplomatic ally to switch allegiance to Beijing .

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit this week to Guatemala and Belize to support the two remaining Central American partners underlined her government’s efforts to avert further defections after Honduras transferred its recognition to China last month.

But some US politicians and independent analysts see Paraguay as the country most likely to abandon Taiwan in the near term, especially if the South American country’s opposition wins its April 30 election and fulfills its promise to embrace China, as demanded by the its agricultural lobby.

“Paraguay is clearly up for grabs,” said Benjamin Gedan, who advised former US President Barack Obama and is now program director for Latin America at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

Further erosion of the Taiwan field would be another blow to the United States, which has had little success in stemming Taipei’s tide of diplomatic losses, and a new sign of China’s growing presence around Washington.

RockedBuzz via Reuters spoke to three US officials and several other sources familiar with the matter who see the Biden administration with limited options to halt the gradual drift towards China, with some saying Taiwan itself appears resigned to losing more allies in the Americas.

It’s a more pessimistic view than President Joe Biden’s aides have expressed publicly and, US sources say, helps explain Washington’s muted response to Honduras’s recent abandonment of Taiwan, which was seen as a lost cause.

While acknowledging that countries have a right to their own sovereign decisions, two US officials told RockedBuzz via Reuters it may now be more important for Taiwan to expand its role in multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization rather than focus on keeping diplomatic allies .

Taiwan itself has publicly signaled that it no longer wants to compete head-to-head in Latin America with a much wealthier China on the basis of “chequebook diplomacy,” the dangle of aid and investment, to keep its remaining 13 allies in all the world by leaving the crease.

“We don’t have a checkbook big enough,” said a Taiwanese official.

The White House did not immediately respond to RockedBuzz via Reuters’ questions about the matter.

The Chinese embassy in Washington called self-ruled Taiwan “an inalienable part of China” and said the one-China principle was an “overwhelming trend” internationally. “China is willing to develop relations with all countries in the spirit of equality and mutual respect,” it said in a statement.


At the heart of China’s approach is its communist leadership’s assertion that democratically governed Taiwan belongs to the mainland despite the island’s government’s objections.

Beijing has been angered by what it sees as increased U.S. support for Taiwan, including Tsai’s stopovers in New York and California on his latest voyage, and has vowed to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary.

Taiwan sees its diplomatic partners as a way to bolster international legitimacy and facilitate economic engagement, while China aims to strip any attributes of statehood from what it sees as a renegade province.

With Paraguay’s election looming and the China issue high on the agenda, Taiwan officials are hoping relations remain on track with the last South American nation still aligned with it, according to a source familiar with Taipei thinking.

Paraguay’s vote could be a game-changer on the issue for the landlocked, California-sized country of 6.7 million people, and a decision with meaning far beyond its borders.

Opposition candidate Efrain Alegre, a centrist lawyer, told RockedBuzz via Reuters in January he would cut ties with Taiwan and open ties with China if it wins the presidency, hoping to boost crucial soybean and beef exports. {nL1N33P1RG}

But the Colorado Party’s conservative candidate for government, Santiago Pena, has vowed to maintain recognition of Taiwan. A cross-party delegation visited the island in February trying to calm Taiwanese jitters.

Polls suggest the contest will be closed. Although the Colorado Party has dominated for decades, it has been plagued by corruption scandals and complaints from the agricultural sector over a lack of access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Some analysts question whether Alegre would be able to muster legislative support to abandon Taiwan. If he did, it would mark a dramatic shift in a relationship dating back to 1957 under two US-backed autocrats, Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek and Paraguay’s Alfredo Stroessner.

Pressure has been mounting for years for Paraguay, one of the world’s top 10 beef exporters and fourth largest soybean exporter, to reconsider its ties with Taiwan, a small but robust democracy.

About three years ago, Chinese diplomats presented their economic case for a change at a meeting with Paraguayan farmers and lawmakers near Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian border, two Paraguayan participants told RockedBuzz via Reuters.

Paraguay’s trade volume with China has doubled in the past eight years and is much larger than that with the United States, UN Comtrade data show, but this is driven by imports while exports to the no. 2 the economy remains tiny.

“Having trade relations with China will be beneficial for producers and for the country,” said Eno Michels, president of the Paraguayan Soybean Producers Association.

He acknowledged, however, that one of the candidates could still switch sides once he takes office in August.

Even if the ruling party retains power, some analysts believe resentment within its ranks over January’s US sanctions on Colorado politicians could push Paraguay into China’s arms.

“No matter which candidate from which party wins, our government will continue to work with the new government of Paraguay to deepen cooperation and exchanges,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.

In Washington, the Chinese embassy said Beijing “does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries” and declined to comment on the situation in Paraguay.


Chinese poaching of Honduras may have been an omen.

When Taiwan temporarily avoided a split with Honduras after President Xiomara Castro took office in January 2022, US State Department officials remained cautious.

In March, a US assessment that Honduras’ leftist government had already decided to switch to China, in a bid for more investment from the Asian giant, led to a moderate US response, said one person who knows the thinking of the United States .

US officials were reluctant to be seen strongly backing a losing position. However, Washington was quick to warn that China’s investment promises often fall short and create “debt traps” for developing nations.

The Biden administration is also keeping a close eye on tiny Belize for any cracks in its relationship with Taiwan. Belizean officials have privately complained that the economic benefits of those ties have not lived up to expectations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Taiwan’s only other Central American ally is Guatemala, which is seen as firm in its support. The other four in the region are Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia.

There is some skepticism among Washington policymakers that further diplomatic losses in the Americas would have a significant impact, assuming Taipei retains support from strategic countries closely tied to the United States, such as the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

Two US officials said Washington was placing less faith in Taiwan by retaining its diplomatic allies in favor of efforts to increase its participation in international organizations.

Though denied a seat at the United Nations, Taiwan is a member of the WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. China, however, blocked the upgrade from observer status to the World Health Organization.

Taiwan itself also appears more interested in strengthening unofficial ties with like-minded European partners, such as Lithuania and the Czech Republic, than in competing to maintain little diplomatic recognition, US officials said.

But some US lawmakers are concerned about the trend, which includes five nations in the Americas switching allegiances in just over five years.

US Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the Communist Party of China’s House Select Committee, told RockedBuzz via Reuters that China was trying to isolate Taiwan, perhaps as a prelude to invading the island, and was “taking advantage of our complacency “.

(Reporting by Michael Martina, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Adam Jourdan in Buenos Aires, Sofia Menchu ​​​​in Guatemala City, Jose Sanchez in Belize City; Screenplay by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Don Durfee and Alistair Bell)

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