After the decision by the Honduras government to sever diplomatic ties with Taipei, the Republic of China is formally recognized as a Country only by thirteen Countries as the number of governments that had formal ties with Taipei dwindled in the last years. Paraguay, the only South-American “diplomatic ally” of Taiwan may recognize China should the opposition party win the next Presidential elections in April. On the other hand, Micronesia might re-recognize Taipei as the economic relation with China did not bear the expected results.
On March 15th the President of Honduras Xiomara Castro announced that her Country would switch recognition from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China. According to the Foreign Minister of Honduras, the decision was motivated by the unwillingness of Taipei’s government to double down on the direct foreign investment in the Central-American Country.
Out of the thirteen Countries that recognize the Republic of China as the only legitimate China, Paraguay is the only one from South America and is the most relevant of all from an economic perspective. The diplomatic ties between Paraguay and the Republic of China date back 55 years but they may come to an abrupt end in the next few weeks.
The left-wing candidate for the next presidential elections of April 30th Efrain Alegre, of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party has announced that he will establish relations with China in order to increase economic opportunities for the beef and soy exporters of its County.
The current President, Mario Abdo Benitez, flew in February to Taiwan in order to assure the Taiwanese government that in case of victory by his party, the right-wing conservative Colorado Party, the ties will remain as strong as ever but it is undeniable that there is a degree of dissatisfaction in the relations with Taiwan. As a matter of fact, as of September 2022 Abdo Benitez was asking Taiwan to prioritize direct investment in formally allied Countries such as Paraguay instead of others, calling for a direct investment of one billion dollars in order to counterbalance the loss of exports that Paraguay faces since China refuses to have economic ties with Countries that recognize Taiwan. According to a study, Paraguay missed out on economic opportunities while its neighbouring Countries such as Argentina exports to China.
The Colorado Party candidate, Santiago Pena, declared that he plans on keeping intact the ties with Taiwan but despite that there is an undeniable evidence that Paraguay is eager to increase its export of meat to China, as confirmed not only by the declaration of Alegre and by the Paraguayan Meat Chamber but also by a congressional vote asking to establish trade with China.
Although during the visit of Abdo in February a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Paraguayan Meat Chamber and the Exporters Association of Taipei it is uncertain whether this will be enough in order to keep alive the relations between the two Countries should the Colorado Party lose the elections. The opinion polls are mixed, some giving the edge to Pena while others pick Alegre.
If Paraguay may be lost, Taiwan may regain another ally, Micronesia. In a 13-pages letter by the Micronesian President David Panuelo sent to several politicians of his Country. Panuelo, who will be leaving office shortly as the Presidential elections did not confirm him, speaks harshly of China’s policy in the Oceanic State, considered ineffective and a mere facade simply for expanding the influence of Beijing in Oceania. Panuelo further talked about “political espionage and warfare”, accusing the Chinese government of brining government officials and the Chinese military of secretly tracking the waters of Micronesia in search of resources or submarine routes.
According to the letter, Panuelo had contacts with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, in order to receive 50 million dollars in exchange for the recognition by the small Country. Wu, asked about it, replied that although he did find discrepancies in the letter, Panuelo’s claims correspond to the truth and that the Republic of China is willing to step in and help out Micronesia’s development. On the other hand, the Chinese government has rejected the accusations, underscoring how China always respected the independence and the path to development of Micronesia.
It is not the first time that Panuelo has a strong reaction to the Chinese foreign policy in the Pacific Ocean: in March 2022 he wrote a letter to the Salomon Islands President Manasseh Sogavare expressing concern over the security agreement struck between that Country and China and in May he wrote another letter to the various leaders of the small Pacific nations to voice his worry for the visit of Wang Yi (at the time the Foreign Affairs Minister) in the region and this letter might be more of a final political stance against China and in favour of safekeeping Micronesia’s independence and sovereignty in the final stage of his presidency but the confirmation by the Foreign Affairs Minister Wu confirms that Taiwan may be close to regaining a new ally.
Whether it’s Paraguay or Micronesia, it may still be too early to know if they will maintain, dismantle or initiate the ties with Taiwan. The Colorado Party might be confirmed and decide to maintain the recognition of Taipei and the new Micronesian President might decide to keep trusting China. Furthermore, the most recent precedent of Honduras confirmed that some diplomatic allies of Taiwan are not immune from being tempted by the massive amount of resources that the Chinese government is willing to pour in.
To sum up, the diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China would still remain scarce, limited to small, developing Countries and exposed to the growing diplomatic pressure by China, which can offer an economic aid that far surpasses what Taiwan can offer and is to be expected that other Countries might decide to switch their recognition.