TOPICS : Taiwan’s bid for diplomatic support

The president of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, is visiting Central America, fearful of losing more allies in the region, as occurred with Costa Rica which broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to reestablish them with China. Chen’s visit, which brought him to El Salvador last Friday, reflects Taiwan’s interest in reinforcing the ties it has had for decades with this region, which are now beginning to fray as trade with China increases, analysts say. “Their diplomatic moves show the anxiety (of the Taiwanese) after Costa Rica’s volte-face” on June 6, political scientist and expert on international politics Napoleón Campos said.

Central American and many Caribbean countries are, in fact, almost the last international backers that Taiwan, regarded by China as a renegade province, has had over the past two decades, he said. Central American countries have unconditionally supported Taiwan in its bids to recover an official seat at the United Nations. It was ousted from the UN in 1971 when China won recognition. Its scant international recognition is used as an argument by Beijing to recover the island, lost in 1949 when the leaders of the nationalist Kuomintang party fled the Chinese mainland after their defeat by the Communist forces, and established a government on Taiwan.

Taiwan has observer status at the Central American Integration System (SICA) and is an extra-regional partner of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). Analysts say that this region of the Americas has become a real chessboard for the two Asian countries, which are battling for something more than trade partners. Diplomatic support and recognition is the ultimate aim.

A source at the Honduran foreign ministry said the country “maintains friendly and supportive relations with Taiwan and will give it its backing for re-entering the UN” when the issue comes up for discussion in September, but did not deny press reports about possible changes in Taiwanese-Honduran relations in future. The establishment of trade ties between Honduras and China at the same time that these reports have emerged is apparently not just a coincidence. Similar reports have emerged in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, all of which express support for Taiwan but have their eyes on Asia’s giant. Costa Rica broke off relations abruptly with Taiwan in early June, after 63 years of economic and diplomatic cooperation. Now, China is its strategic partner, with trade between them having climbed from $630 million in 2004 to $1.7 billion in 2006.

Between 2000 and 2004, the volume of trade between Taiwan and the Central American and Caribbean region amounted to $3.3 billion, according to the Salvadoran foreign ministry. In spite of the high volume of trade with Taiwan, political scientist Campos predicts that China’s astuteness and historical circumstances will prevail. “The Chinese mentality is much more complex, patient, intelligent and open than we Central Americans imagine,” he said. — IPS