After contentious US visit, Taiwan’s president arrives in C.America

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Guatemala Friday on a visit to shore up ties with dwindling allies following a trip to the United States that angered China.

Tsai’s visit to Guatemala and its Central American neighbor Belize comes after Honduras became the latest country to cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.

The president had stopped in New York on the way, and on her return trip has announced plans to meet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

Washington had said there was no reason for China to “overreact” to the “normal, uneventful” trip, while Beijing warned the United States was “playing with fire.”

Tsai arrived in Guatemala on Friday afternoon, where she was received with military honors and met by Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro.

She will later hold talks with her counterpart Alejandro Giammattei, whose government had declared Taiwan “the only and true China.”

The president will visit the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal in the north of the country on Saturday and the new Chimaltenango hospital in the west, built with a $22 million donation from Taipei, on Sunday.

Then she will travel to Belize, where she is scheduled to meet Prime Minister John Briceno on Monday before departing the next day.

On her way back to Taiwan, Tsai plans to stop in Los Angeles, where McCarthy has said he will meet her.

Earlier this month, Honduras, a neighbor of Guatemala, cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized China.

The switch reduced the number of number of countries that diplomatically recognize Taiwan to 13.

Paraguay could follow next, with presidential elections due in April and opposition candidate Efrain Alegre having vowed to reevaluate ties with Taiwan.

That would leave only Guatemala, Belize, Haiti, the Holy See, Eswatini and seven small Caribbean and Pacific island nations diplomatically allied to Taiwan.

China considers the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day.

Under its “One China” policy, it does not allow countries to officially recognize both Beijing and Taipei.

Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground since Taiwan and China separated in 1949, following a civil war when the communists seized power in China while the nationalists retreated to Taiwan.

In recent years, Nicaragua shifted allegiance to Beijing in 2021, El Salvador in 2018, Panama in 2017 and Costa Rica in 2007.

The United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but maintains “a robust unofficial relationship”, according to the State Department.

It is Taiwan’s most significant ally and largest weapons supplier, despite having switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.

After Honduras’ move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington offered its “support to people on Taiwan” but that it also stood by its “One-China” policy.

“Countries have to make their own sovereign decisions about their foreign policies,” he said. “We leave that to them.”