TAIPEI – Taiwan, backed by the United States, is winning the diplomatic tussle with China in Latin America for now after losing several of its allies in the region to Beijing in recent years.
A significant chunk of Taiwan’s remaining allies are in Latin America, and it looks set to remain that way for a while to come owing to a variety of reasons, including the US factor.
“Limitation of foreseen benefits, scarcity of Chinese aid to the latest countries to move over to its side, and American interest in Taiwan maintaining its allies makes further cutting off of diplomatic ties with the island very difficult,” head of Institute of Latin American Studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, Emilio Kung told EFE.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has made a significant shift in its economic policy with its partners, and in 2018 it allocated $150 million for cooperation with Paraguay, to be spent on social housing, education, and boosting institutions and infrastructure.
Moreover, in February the island announced a total of $100 million in loans for Nicaragua, which is expected to be crucial for the country steeped in a spiraling political, social and economic crisis.
The island also has a Central America Trade Office (CATO), which aims to “facilitate mutual interaction of trade and economy, strategic alliances and international investment cooperation, functioning as the matching platform for business communication between Taiwan and Central America,” according to the organization.
“The three pivots of CATO are trade, investments and tourism and culture,” the Office’s head Jaime Chuang, in-charge of missions to buy coffee, beef, seafood and other products, explained to EFE.
CATO seeks to boost tourism in Central America and encourage countries from the region to take part in international fairs dedicated to coffee, organized by the island.
Moreover, Kung considers that renewed US support has been playing a key role in favor of Taiwan retaining its Latin American allies.
“There were Taiwanese partners very interested in China, but now, with US support, everything has changed,” he said.
On Aug. 24, 2018, when El Salvador broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China, the White House had expressed its grave concern over the incident and later even condemned Chinese interference in Latin America.
El Salvador was the latest to join the trend started by other countries – such as Dominican Republic (May 2018), Panama (June 2017) and Sao Tome and Principe (December 2016) – that decided to establish official ties with China instead of Taiwan.
In fact, in October last year, the US State Department called its diplomatic representatives in El Salvador, Panama and Dominican Republic for consultations, causing great concern in these three countries, where several sections – especially those in the opposition – fear that the shift toward China hampers their ties with the US.
Since then, countries that are allied with Taiwan, have been hesitant to switch allegiances to China, according to experts.
Beijing, on its part, has continued to lure Taiwan’s allies with donations, according to the island, which has also warned that the huge loans and investments offered by the Chinese always come with conditions.
“The Chinese strategy not only takes into account its might, but also the so called side-effects, especially due to the reaction of the United States, as well as the international community and the Taiwanese society itself,” former head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Alex Huang, told EFE.
China has been poaching Taiwan’s allies as a pressure tactic to undermine its morale and isolate it globally and force it to adhere to the One China principle.
Taiwan is now left with only 17 allies, but experts say China is unlikely to try and poach them for fear of provoking Taiwanese pro-independence groups.