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China is battling Honduras while weighing Taiwan ties

A pledge to accept China and downplay relations with Taiwan if a leading Honduras presidential candidate wins Sunday’s election calls for diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Washington seeking influence over Central American countries.

With a population of just under 10 million people, Honduras is a small group of Central American and Caribbean countries that maintain relations with the US-backed Taiwan. China regards them as a rogue province.

Leftist Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro, who has sought to unite opposition to a decade of conservative rule, stated in her election manifesto that if elected, she would “of course” seek to establish formal ties with Beijing. 

Castro’s primary opponent, Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura, has not stated his position on China. However, many believe he will maintain the current policy. According to one opinion poll published last month, Asfura trailed Castro by 17 points, but another poll showed a tie.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has accused the United States of twisting its arms before the weekend Honduras elections.

Chinese investment

A change could result in more Chinese investment in Honduras, the Americas’ third poorest country.

Geovany Pineda is an avocado farmer in Honduras who also helps lead a farmers’ association. He is cautiously optimistic that China will outbid Taiwan in agricultural aid.

Moreover, he believes Honduras could get a better deal. He cited a three-year-old Taiwanese program that has provided nearly $4 million to increase local avocado production. China already accounts for up to a fifth of Honduran imports, U.S. businesses have more to offer.

Economically, it’s not in our interest to have relations with China because what we want is for American companies in China to relocate to Honduras,” he said.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said Chinese investment in Latin America has a poor track record, citing last April’s elections in Ecuador. A pro-American candidate elected president after several significant Chinese investments championed by his leftist predecessors came under heavy scrutiny for substandard construction, among other controversies. The lawmaker issued a warning to Honduran leaders in the future.

“I’m not telling countries how to conduct their foreign policy,” he said. “However, wanting closer and closer relations with China usually means getting fleeced.”

When asked about Kaine’s remarks, China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond.

Honduras and Taiwan had had diplomatic relations since 1941. This was when the Republic of China’s government fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war. China-Taiwan tensions have risen under President Xi Jinping. His tough stance on Hong Kong has fueled speculation that he will push harder to absorb what Beijing sees as its territory.

Taiwanese officials expressed concern about Castro’s campaign promise. Hence, outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez paid a surprise visit to Taipei earlier this month.

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