TEGUCIGALPA, March 16 (Reuters) – A senior envoy from President Joe Biden will travel to Panama and Honduras this month, the US State Department said Thursday, days after Taiwan’s ally Honduras said it would establish formal diplomatic ties with China.
Chris Dodd, the U.S. special presidential adviser to the Americas, will visit the two Central American countries from March 17 to March 21, the department said in a statement.
In recent years, the United States has focused on migration and security challenges emanating from Central America, as well as trade and development priorities, but has also been concerned about China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region.
Dodd, a former legislator, will meet with Honduran officials and private sector representatives, officials and financial leaders in Panama and attend an annual conference of the Inter-American Development Bank.
“These visits reinforce the United States’ commitment to promoting inclusive economic growth, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere,” the State Department said.
On Tuesday, Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced it would seek diplomatic ties with Beijing at the expense of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory with no right to interstate ties.
Castro’s secretary of state, Enrique Reina, said on Wednesday the pivot to China was partly because Honduras was “up to its neck” in financial trouble and debt — including $600 million it owes Taiwan.
Taiwan Prime Minister Chen Chien-jen spoke to reporters in Taipei on Friday and reiterated a warning to Honduras not to trust China and its money offers.
“China has suppressed Taiwan’s diplomacy, so it will invest funds related to specific countries to block Taiwan’s diplomatic development,” he said.
Chinese investments as part of the Belt and Road energy and infrastructure network in these countries had largely failed and led to financial problems, Chen said.
“Therefore, we sincerely hope that Honduras can recognize the true nature of China and hope that they maintain diplomatic relations and are not misled.”
China denied on Thursday that Taiwan’s former allies such as Panama and El Salvador had not benefited since forging relations with Beijing, saying they had received “tangible benefits”.
If Honduras ended relations with Taiwan, it would leave the island with only 13 diplomatic allies.
While the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is Taiwan’s main international lender and arms supplier.
China says Taiwan is one of its provinces that has no right to interstate ties, a position the democratically elected government in Taipei strongly rejects.
Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Written by Sarah Morland; Edited by Leslie Adler, Robert Birsel
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