BELIZE CITY, BELIZE — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Belize on Sunday for the last stop of a Central America tour to shore up relations a week after Honduras became the latest country to switch ties to Beijing.
Tsai was greeted with military honours and a red carpet welcome as she arrived in Belize City from neighbouring Guatemala, which she said Taiwan would “continue assisting.” Guatemala vowed in turn to maintain “recognition of the sovereignty” of Taiwan.
Tsai was to meet in the evening with people of Taiwanese origin before conferring on Monday with Prime Minister John Briceno, state television reported.
The two are expected to reaffirm bilateral ties in the wake of Honduras cutting off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in late March to recognize China instead.
That reduced the number of countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei to 13, including Guatemala and Belize.
China considers self-ruled, democratic Taiwan part of its territory to be retaken one day, and does not allow other countries to recognize both Beijing and Taipei.
Taiwan said that before Honduras decided to cut ties, it had asked for money, but Taipei would “not engage in a meaningless cash diplomacy contest with China.”
On Sunday in Guatemala, Tsai said her country would “continue assisting the substantial and prolonged development of its diplomatic allies,” as she visited a hospital built with a donation of $22 million from Taipei.
“We will not stop working with the world’s democratic partners,” she said.
Tsai was accompanied by her Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei, who vowed his country would maintain “recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of China, Taiwan.”
He also 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.”
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait soared to their highest level in years in August 2022 after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, with Beijing staging days of air and sea exercises around the island.
“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!” the Guatemalan president exclaimed.
Tsai stopped in New York on her way to Guatemala and has announced plans to meet current US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on her way home, angering Beijing.
Washington has said there is no reason for China to “overreact” to the “normal, uneventful” trip, but Beijing warned the United States was “playing with fire.”
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.
Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground since Taiwan and China separated in 1949, following a civil war in which the communists seized power on the mainland while the nationalists retreated to Taiwan.
Nicaragua shifted its allegiance to Beijing in 2021, as did El Salvador in 2018, Panama in 2017 and Costa Rica in 2007.
Other than Guatemala and Belize, Taiwan retains diplomatic ties with Paraguay, Haiti, the Holy See, Eswatini and seven small Caribbean and Pacific nations.