Honduras switched its diplomatic affiliation from Taiwan to China in the latest setback for the Asian island’s president. Now some of Taiwan’s politicians are saying they need to take a different approach.
JUANA SUMMER, HOST:
Taiwan and China have long been locked in a struggle for diplomatic recognition. And now Honduras has dealt a blow to Taiwan and formed a new alliance with China. Taiwan has lost recognition from nine countries in the past eight years, in large part because China is aggressively courting the Asian island’s few remaining partners. And NPR’s Emily Feng is in Taipei and now she’s joining us to explain. Welcome.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hello.
SUMMERS: So, Emily, what’s behind this decision by Honduras to switch ties?
FENG: Well, if you ask Taiwan, it was all about money. This is Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
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JOSEPH WU: (Non-English spoken).
FENG: He’s telling reporters here that Honduras demands what he called a high price to maintain ties, and Taiwan doesn’t compete with China in checkbook diplomacy, he said. Overall, Foreign Minister Wu claims Honduras wants $2.4 billion for a hospital, dam and help with loan repayments – a sum Honduras has incidentally confirmed – and will also claim Beijing has given large sums to Honduran officials, to influence loyalties. China has denied all of this, but either way this is still a really big blow to Taiwan because it fits into a broader pattern as China has been really successful in diplomatically isolating Taiwan and nearly half of its remaining partners in recent years snatch away eight years through a combination of economic stimulus and lobbying, particularly among Pacific island nations, but in this case in Central America.
SUMMER: OK. And give us some of the backstory here. Why are Beijing and Taipei competing so fiercely for these countries’ recognition?
FENG: It dates back to a civil war that goes back more than 70 years, and that led to what Beijing calls the one China principle — that there is this one country called China, and Beijing, not Taipei, that legitimate government for this is entire territory, which incidentally also includes Taiwan. And that’s why China says to this day it wants to reunify Taiwan, even if that means a military invasion. And that’s why for Taiwan, rather than China, this steady elimination of countries that recognize it feels so existential. And that’s one reason why Taiwan is often absent from multilateral institutions.
SUMMER: Taiwan is now reduced to 13 countries that recognize it, and that’s a number that includes the Vatican. And I mean, there just aren’t that many.
FENG: Exactly. And so Taiwan’s foreign ministers and some lawmakers in Taiwan’s current ruling party are beginning to say that the number of formal alliances may not matter that much. It’s still important, but not the most important thing, and that they might even accept it if countries recognize both Taiwan and China. Well, that’s something China won’t accept, but it shows a flexible mindset. Here is Taiwan lawmaker Wang Ting-yu, who is a member of Taiwan’s Legislative Committee on Foreign Affairs and National Defense this week.
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WANG TING-YU: (No English spoken).
FENG: He’s saying here, “If like-minded countries that share our political ideals, that have democracy, want to deepen their current relationship with Taiwan, Taiwan will accept that.” Essentially, he’s saying we want quality over quantity in relations. And in fact this is already happening in practice. Taiwan’s most staunch supporters on the world stage, including the US, by the way, do not recognize Taiwan. They recognize China. But we’ve seen the US and European countries send literally dozens of delegations to the island over the past year, which has boosted their relationship with Taiwan in basically everything but name. So formal recognition is important, but it becomes a little less important.
SUMMER: NPR’s Emily Feng in Taipei. Thanks Emily
FENG: Thank you, Juana.
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NPR transcripts are prepared by an NPR contractor on a rush schedule. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR programming is the audio recording.
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