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Taiwan VP to attend Honduras inauguration with diplomatic ties in balance



Taiwan said Wednesday its deputy leader will go to the inauguration of Honduran president-elect Xiomara Castro as the island faces the potential loss of yet another diplomatic ally in Latin America.

Castro said during campaigning that she would “immediately open diplomatic and commercial relations with mainland China” if she won.

Last month, neighbouring Nicaragua switched its allegiance to Beijing, leaving Honduras as one of just 14 countries that still diplomatically recognise Taiwan rather than China.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, to be retaken one day, by force if necessary, and has stepped up efforts to isolate it on the world stage.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai will lead a 26-member delegation to attend the January 27 inauguration, President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said.

Tsai had said she hoped official relations with Honduras would “continue to deepen” when congratulating Castro on her election victory in the November poll.

Lai is scheduled to hold a meeting with Castro “to exchange views on issues of mutual concern” during the six-day visit, according to deputy foreign minister Alexander Yui.

“We have quite good communication and interactions with president-elect Castro herself and her team,” Yui told reporters.

“They understand that … the various cooperation projects Taiwan has been promoting in Honduras have really benefitted the people,” he said.

Yui said in an interview with Honduran media last year that many promises from Beijing were unfulfilled and left some countries in serious “debt traps.”

– ‘Only a matter of time’ –

Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground for China and Taiwan since the two split in 1949 after a civil war.

Beijing has spent decades successfully encouraging Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch sides, a campaign it ramped up after Tsai’s 2016 election.

Since then, China has poached eight of the island’s allies, including four in Latin America — Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Chinese vice foreign minister Le Yucheng on Tuesday said it was “only a matter of time” before Taiwan’s diplomatic allies “fall to zero,” adding that Nicaragua’s move away from the island reflected “a general trend.”

Taipei recently accused Beijing of trying to lure allies away by offering Covid-19 vaccines.

Before November’s election, Taiwan warned Honduras against “flashy and false” promises by China, after Castro, of the main opposition Liberty and Refoundation Party, said she planned to switch sides.

The leftist politician, wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, won by a comfortable margin over her right-wing opponent, Nasry Asfura.

Taiwanese media said Lai was planning to transit in the United States en route to Honduras, a move likely to irritate China, which has previously protested US stopovers by President Tsai.