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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Belize Reaffirms Ties With Taiwan on Leader’s Visit

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan at Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City, Belize (Photo by Taiwan Presidential Office via Reuters)


Belize Prime Minister John Briceno extended a warm welcome to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on her 10-day visit to Belize and Guatemala, with stopovers in New York and Los Angeles, to shore up relations a week after Honduras became the latest country to switch allegiance to Beijing.

Belize received Tsai with military honors and a red carpet on April 2 when she arrived at Belize City from neighboring Guatemala, which she said Taiwan would “continue assisting.” Guatemala vowed, in turn, to maintain “recognition of the sovereignty” of Taiwan, reported The Standard (April 2).

“Belize welcomes you into our home with open arms,” Prime Minister John Briceno told Tsai during a joint session of the National Assembly in Belmopan, the capital of the Central American nation, reported Reuters (April 3).

Prime Minister Briceno thanked Taipei for its largesse, including scholarships, agricultural programs and a $16.5 million grant for construction of a hospital in the island town and popular tourist spot of San Pedro. He applauded a declaration that lawmakers passed in March reaffirming Belize’s formal recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign and independent country.

Tsai also delivered an address to the joint session, thanking Belize for its diplomatic support amid “constant threats and pressure” from China, reported Agence France Presse (April 3).

Tsai said that through its participation in the United Nations and other international organizations from which her country is excluded, Belize “has helped give voice to the 23 million people of Taiwan”.

Belize is a country of 400,000 people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration planned to host an exhibition of micro, small and medium enterprises to highlight the Women Economic Empowerment Project, which is a joint project with the government of Taiwan, reported the Government of Belize Press Office (March 21).

Tsai was scheduled to meet on the evening of her arrival with people of Taiwanese origin, according to The Standard.

This was Tsai’s second visit to Belize during her two terms as president.

Before Honduras shifted recognition to Beijing, Taiwan said that the Central American country had asked for money. Taipei said that it “would not engage in a meaningless cash diplomacy contest with China”, reported The Standard. President Xiomara Castro of Honduras is expected to visit China soon, according to The Guardian (April 2).

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, accused the Honduran president of being misled by Chinese promises of financial aid, reported The Guardian (March 26). Honduras’ move followed negotiations with China on building a hydroelectric dam in the country.

There are now 13 countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei, including Guatemala and Belize, reported The Standard.

China does not allow other countries to recognize both Beijing and Taipei. It considers self-ruled, democratic Taiwan to be part of its territory awaiting reunification. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claim, saying that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.


President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan shakes hands with her Guatemalan counterpart, Alejandro Giammattei, at the Mayan ruins of Tikal (Photo by Guatemala Presidency/Reuters)


Guatemala Visit

In Guatemala, Tsai said that her country “would continue assisting the substantial and prolonged development of its diplomatic allies”, as she visited a hospital in the city of Chimaltenango in western Guatemala, which was built with a $22 million donation from Taipei, according to The Standard and The Guardian (April 2).

“We will not stop working with the world’s democratic partners,” she said.

The two leaders visited the ancient Mayan pyramid, Tikal Temple, or Temple of the Great Jaguar, where a bonfire was lit during a Mayan dance ceremony. They also observed a traditional Mayan ballgame.

President Alejandro Giammattei, with his Taiwanese counterpart at his side, called Taiwan “the one and only true China”, reported The Guardian (April 2).

According to The Standard, Giammattei spoke out against “tensions generated by mainland China in the Taiwan Strait, which sow anxiety and snatch happiness and peace from the citizens of the Republic of China, Taiwan.

“May God bless the Republic of Taiwan and its yearning for peace, longing for freedom and the right to the full exercise of sovereignty. Long live the Republic of China.”

Meeting With House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait soared to their highest level in years in August 2022 after then-United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, reported The Standard. According to the Financial Times (April 3), “Beijing punished Taipei for hosting Pelosi by staging unprecedented week-long military manoeuvres, simulating a blockade of the country and firing missiles over its airspace, some of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which stretches from the coat for 200 nautical miles.”

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office said that the congressional leader would meet with Tsai on April 5 in California, reported the Financial Times (April 3).

China is expected to react to the meeting with another round of military manoeuvres around Taiwan. Beijing had warned that a meeting with McCarthy would be considered “another provocation” that would “sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and pledged “to resolutely hit back”.

A fierce Chinese military reaction would undo Tsai’s efforts to de-escalate the situation. Last year, McCarthy pledged to fly to Taiwan following the visit of his predecessor, House Speaker Pelosi. Tsai persuaded McCarthy, in March, to hold off on a visit and suggested, instead, a meeting in the U.S. during her previously planned overseas tour.

Since the end of last year’s week-long drills, the People’s Liberation Army has continued to stage air and naval exercises at a larger scale and closer to Taiwan than it had prior to Pelosi’s visit.

The Standard reported that Washington said that there is no reason for China “to overreact” to the “normal uneventful trip”, but Beijing warned that the United States was “playing with fire”.

The United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it maintains “a robust unofficial relationship,” according to the State Department. It is Taiwan’s most significant ally and largest weapon supplier.

Taiwan’s Development Aid to Latin America and the Caribbean and the One China Policy, National University of Taiwan (2019) said:

“Slightly more than half of those countries that recognize Taiwan are located in Latin America and the Caribbean (as of June 2019, nine out of 17). Since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, Taiwan and China have been striving to achieve diplomatic recognition in the region, using development aid as a foreign policy tool to gain diplomatic partners.

“After Beijing replaced Taipei in the United Nations in 1971, Taiwan’s struggle for recognition has become more intense. Despite being diplomatically isolated, since the 1970s and 1980s, Taiwan has experienced extraordinary economic growth (being one of the so-called our Asian Tigers) becoming one of the world’s main exporters of manufactured products and, therefore, accumulating a large amount of foreign currency reserves (the sixth in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, 2019), which, in turn, enabled Taipei to use its economic advantages to pursue ambitious foreign aid programs.”

The Guardian (March 26) reported that China has spent billions to win recognition for its “One China” policy, which includes the government’s claim over Taiwan. Other governments have corresponding policies, which dictate the level of recognition it gives to China’s principle. The United States and Australia, which have formal diplomatic ties with Beijing, still only acknowledge China’s claim over Taiwan without recognition.

Taiwan retains robust informal ties with more than 100 other countries.

Many of its allies receive financial assistance, or have access to Taiwan’s medical system or scholarships at Taiwanese universities. The ministry of foreign affairs confirmed that with the ending of ties with Honduras, 170 students will lose their scholarships at the end of the current semester.

According to The Standard, Nicaragua shifted allegiance to Beijing in 2021, as did El Salvador in 2018, Panama in 2017 and Costa Rica in 2007.

States With Formal Ties

The sovereign states which have formal ties with Taiwan, their subregions, and the years in which ties were established are as follows:

-- Belize, Central America (1989);

-- Eswatini, Southern Africa (1968);

-- Guatemala, Central America (1933);

-- Haiti, Caribbean (1956);

-- Holy See (Vatican City), Southern Europe (1942);

-- Marshall Islands, Micronesia (1998);

-- Nauru, Micronesia (1980-2002, 2005);

-- Palau, Micronesia (1999);

-- Paraguay, South America (1957);

-- Saint Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean (1983);

-- Saint Lucia, Caribbean (1984-1997, 2007);

-- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean (1981);

-- Tuvalu, Polynesia (1979).

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