Taiwan ‘reassured’ on formal ties with Guatemala under incoming president

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s foreign minister on Friday said Guatemala’s incoming government had “reassured” that it intends to maintain formal ties with the island, as China gradually whittles away at Taipei’s remaining allies.

Only 13 countries now officially recognise Chinese-claimed Taiwan, most of those in Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. New governments are always a nervous moment as they weigh whether to stick with Taiwan or switch diplomatic relations to China.

Honduras in March ended its decades-long relationship with Taipei in favour of Beijing following the election in late 2021 of Xiomara Castro as president.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters on Friday that the island’s ambassador in Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America, had spoken with senior people in the incoming administration of President-elect Bernardo Arevalo.

“I think we were reassured that they would like the keep the relations with Taiwan, so that should be no problem,” Wu said.

Arevalo said on the campaign trail that he would pursue closer trade relations with China if he was elected.

Wu said some other countries that had ditched Taiwan for China were disappointed after Beijing had not lived up to its trade and investment promises.

“From what we have heard from these people, they were all very disappointed. And therefore the incoming team in Guatemala has also heard those kinds of stories about the Chinese promises,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism, saying this would not change the “positive momentum” in China’s ties with countries that had ended relations with Taiwan.

The United States has watched with concern as China takes away Taiwan’s friends in Central America, traditionally Washington’s back yard.

“I think the United States also understands the significance for Taiwan being able to maintain diplomatic relations with those Caribbean and Latin American countries,” Wu said.

Arevalo’s anti-corruption platform helped spring him to a shock landslide victory in August elections, but the transition process ahead of him taking office next month has been troubled with accusations that a politicised justice system is trying to stymie the process.

Wu said he hoped the transition would take place peacefully.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Joe Cash in Beijing; Editing by Tom Hogue)