Taiwan president arrives in Eswatini to visit last African ally

TAIPEI/MBABANE (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen arrived on Tuesday in Eswatini, Taipei’s last African ally, saying the island will continue to confidently engage with the world and show it is a force for good.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 13 countries, almost all small, less developed nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, like Belize and Nauru.

In March, Honduras ended decades of ties with Taiwan.

The Taiwanese delegation signed three memoranda of understanding with the southern African country after it met with Eswatini’s King Mswati III.

Taiwan committed to providing $1 million to help the kingdom establish a fund, aimed at supporting women in initiating businesses, Eswatini’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Tsai, speaking at the airport before leaving, said Eswatini was a “familiar old friend”.

“Not only will Taiwan’s footsteps to the world not stop, we will continue to move forward more firmly and self-confidently, so that the world can see Taiwan’s steady force for good,” she said, in comments broadcast live by the presidential office.

Tsai is in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, from Sept. 5 to 7 for the 55th anniversary of the country’s independence, and also marking 55 years of bilateral relations.

Eswatini is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa, which Chinese President Xi Jinping visited last month.

Tsai is flying directly to Eswatini and not having to stop over anywhere, unlike visits to Latin America which require transits via the United States that always anger China.

Tsai last visited Eswatini in 2018, and this time is being accompanied by Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua.

Taiwan has provided large amounts of aid to the small southern African country ruled by an absolute monarchy, including in 2021 antiviral medication to help King Mswati III recover from COVID.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lunga Masuku; Additional reporting by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Michael Perry, Josie Kao, William Maclean)