A Nation in Central America
Honduras is a nation in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the south and east, and by El Salvador and Guatemala to the west. Its small southern coast is washed by the Pacific Ocean. In contrast, its northern coast is inundated by the Caribbean Sea occupying a territory which covers the Bay Islands department in the offshore Caribbean.
The fact that the majority of Hondurans live largely secluded lives in the country’s mountainous region may help to explain the nation’s somewhat exclusive foreign policy on matters regarding Latin and Central America. Like its neighbors in the geographical area, Honduras is a developing country whose citizens face a plethora of economic and social difficulties. This situation is made worse by the country’s rugged topography and the sporadic violence of tropical weather systems, such as the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Honduras-Taiwan Diplomatic Ties: A Nostalgic Reminder
The bilateral relationship between Taiwan and Honduras was established in 1941 on a common dislike of communism and Cold War geopolitics that lasted well into the 1980s. For a significant portion of this period, both Taiwan and Honduras were ruled by right-wing military regimes. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, both countries started to liberalize and began establishing more complex relationships, largely through trade, development aid for Honduras, and diplomatic cover for Taiwan in international organizations.
Due to its distinctive connection with the Mainland and the “One China concept,” Taiwan is in a predicament that is unlike any other country. Yet, most states have severed ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing. Even though it is a major ally of the island and its democratic government, the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
The tiny number of nations that still recognize the Republic of China has decreased as the People’s Republic of China has become richer and more aggressive; at the moment, only 13 nations still have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Nonetheless, the peculiar diplomatic situation Taiwan and its allies found themselves in has produced somewhat amusing circumstances.
Porfirio Lobo Sosa, former Honduran president, aroused alarm in both places when he seemed to imply that his administration wanted to open relations with both Taiwan and mainland China in 2012. Beijing dismissed the notion of dual recognition at the time, while Taiwanese authorities vehemently condemned the act. At the time, it appeared as though Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras) would be willing to sever ties with Taipei (the capital of Taiwan), but an unwritten diplomatic agreement between Beijing and Ma Ying (former president of the Republic of China) prevented that from happening.
During the time of former President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, relations between Taipei and Tegucigalpa were cordial overall. Taiwan transferred UH-1H helicopters for the Honduran military and extended financial support for medical supplies during Hernández’s first year in office which led to an improvement in bilateral relations.
Yet, controversy taints democratic Taiwan’s relations with Honduras. After Hernández, was re-elected in 2017, he issued an order for the military to ruthlessly suppress demonstrators who accused the president of electoral fraud after the results were not announced for five days. Tsai Ing-wen congratulated Hernández on winning a second term in power despite widespread criticism from the international community.
Hence retaining diplomatic allies and outmaneuvering Beijing to compel Honduras to switch diplomatic allies seemed to have been more important for Tsai than criticizing Hernández’s government’s human rights violation. However, even Hernández admitted that China’s expanding influence offered an “opportunity” for the entire region. His comments greatly reflected how the overall discontent felt by Central American countries in 2018 was a result of Washington’s decision to significantly reduce financial assistance during the Trump administration.
Hernández officially stated that Beijing’s assistance was appreciated, but he later reiterated that relations with Taiwan were not negotiable and that, in reality, his administration was looking to establish “a commercial partnership.”
Honduras and China’s Handshake
Xiomara Castro, the president of Honduras, initiated the bilateral ties with China during her election campaign, suggesting that breaking up ties with Taiwan and establishing contact with Beijing was the decision of “proof of my willingness to fulfill the government agenda and extend borders” on 14 March 2023. However, it should be noted that the action was taken a few weeks after her government revealed it was in talks with China to construct the Patuca II hydropower plant.
To cut off its links with Taiwan and further alienate the island on the international stage, Honduras’ president has reportedly told her foreign minister to forge diplomatic ties with China. Following up on her announcement, Taiwan’s foreign ministry on 15 March 2023 voiced out “severe concerns” to the Honduran state and urged them to closely examine its choice to “not fall into China’s trap” and sever the two countries’ long-standing friendship.
“Taiwan is a sincere and reliable ally. Our country has always assisted Honduras in its national development to the best of our capabilities. China’s only goal in developing relations with Honduras is to shrink our country’s international space, it has no sincere intentions to cooperate for the good of the Honduran people,” the Taiwan ministry issued a statement.
With the change from Taipei to Beijing, Taiwan would only have official diplomatic ties with 13 nations as China forbids nations with which it has bilateral agreements from continuing to have formal relationships with Taiwan. However, the decision of the Honduran president was praised by the Foreign Minister of China as according to him it would result in the development of “friendly and cooperative relations.”
However, Eduardo Reina, the foreign minister of Honduras, claimed that the choice was driven by “pragmatism, not ideology” and the deficit of the nation. He claimed that Honduras’ requirements for electricity, social programs, and debt repayment were “drowning” the nation with the nerve-wracking $20 billion foreign and domestic debt which must be repaid this year in addition to the $2.2 billion it paid last year.
In addition, Reina noted that “171 countries in the globe have contacts with continental China” and that Honduras “had to make that decision” due to economic realities. Beijing and Taiwan have been at odds over issues in Latin America. Costa Rica broke diplomatic connections with Taipei in 2007; Panama in 2017; El Salvador in 2018; and Nicaragua in 2021.
Beijing, which had long lobbied Taiwan’s friends, replaced them with relations. Yet, since Honduras moved to Beijing, only Guatemala and Paraguay have diplomatic ties with Taipei. If it wins the election in April, the opposition in Paraguay says it would sever ties with China. Therefore, China has been charged with utilizing bribes to further its diplomatic objectives.
David Panuelo, the outgoing leader of Micronesia, accused China of engaging in “political warfare” by trying to stop the Pacific nation from switching its allegiance from Beijing to Taipei. The “substantive implications” of Honduras moving its allegiance from Taipei to Beijing “should be minimal providing Taiwan avoids reactionary comments,” according to Timothy Rich, an expert at the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington.
China has not opted out of the option of using force against Taiwan which it considers an island in the form of a renegade province that must “unify” with the country despite Taiwan’s self-government and independence from Beijing. The most recent diplomatic actions of China coincided with the US and its allies’ growing concerns about a future Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
In what some have dubbed “grey zone warfare,” the People’s Liberation Army conducts routine combat actions across the Taiwan Strait to deplete Taiwan’s military. It sent 28 military aircraft across the Taiwan Strait on 15 March 2023, 16 of which breached the median line, an unofficial border separating the two coastlines.
The abrupt change in the plan of Honduras in order to form strong China-Honduras bilateral ties is a representation of a desperate attempt to reconcile, reestablish and take advantage of the dimension of their economic scenario, thereby helping in the mutual progress of both countries. The current atmosphere of the international arena demonstrates China as an authority and an upper hand in the power paradigm, certainly over Taiwan for sure.
If diplomatic ties, dialogue, and decisions across borders are like a game then China has mastered its tricks, it knows how to make allies out of people setting on flame its rivals. Honduras is in a vulnerable position economically and politically, thus it exploited the opportunity to dominate on the ground of Central America, setting Taiwan in a weaker position than before, subordinating it and positing it in a climate where it would nonetheless be compelled to return to it for unification.
Hence, it could be concluded that China has been playing master strokes occupying international space and shaping the dynamics in its favor playing with the countries like players whom it could easily control and manipulate where Honduras is no exception and has been acting like China wants it to act.
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