Paraguay president-elect commits to ‘strengthen’ ties with Taiwan

Paraguay’s president-elect, Santiago Pena, said on Friday that he would continue to strengthen his country’s “historic ties” with Taiwan following a call with his counterpart there after winning Sunday’s election.

The countries’ diplomatic relations of more than six decades had been in the spotlight before Sunday’s election, with opposition candidate Efrain Alegre telling Reuters he would seek to move his country closer to China to boost agricultural ties.

Paraguay is Taiwan’s only South American ally and the island – claimed by China as its own – has lost support from other Central American nations in recent years.

“Thanks, President @iingwen, for the congratulations call. We will keep strengthening the historic ties between Paraguay and the Republic of China (Taiwan), and look forward to working on mutually beneficial cooperation projects,” Pena said on Twitter, referring to President Tsai Ing-wen.

Pena, who won 43% of the vote, declared in January that he would follow the current president’s policy of allying with Taiwan, despite pressure from the local agricultural sector that wants to open up lucrative Chinese markets to soybeans and beef.

Taiwan faces an uphill battle to keep ties with the 13 countries that currently recognize it as a sovereign nation, amid pressure from China.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typographical error in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Isabel Woodford; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)