When Honduras switched allegiance from Taipei to Beijing last week, it put the diplomatic future of Taiwan, a self-governed democracy, in a more precarious position.
After a civil war in 1949, the Communist Party ruled China and the Nationalists fled for Taiwan. While now-democratic Taiwan maintains its own borders, military and government, Beijing cites the contested 1992 framework of “one China,” negotiated with a previous Taiwanese administration, to claim the island.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is slated to stop over Wednesday in the United States — which acknowledges but does not endorse China’s claim on Taiwan — en route to Central America, in a trip that might cause tension with Beijing.
Here’s what to know about Honduras’s exit and Taiwan’s diplomatic situation.
Why did Honduras sever ties with Taiwan?
Honduras’s relationship with Taiwan, which dates back to the 1940s, was initially centered on antipathy toward communism during the Cold War era. This grew to trade ties after their economic liberalization, the Institute for Security and Development Policy has noted, adding that Taiwan gave development assistance to Honduras and received diplomatic support in return.
Honduras’s decision to break its relationship with Taiwan came after weeks of diplomatic back-and-forth over Honduras’s mounting debt problems. Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina this month said the country was “up to its neck” in debt, including $600 million owed to Taiwan.
Honduras demanded Taiwan provide $2.5 billion in aid before the Central American nation announced it would seek open ties with China, according to Reuters.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu accused Honduras of demanding an exorbitant sum, adding that Honduras’s request was “a bit like bribery.” Tsai echoed these frustrations, saying her country would not engage in a “meaningless contest of dollar diplomacy with China.”
The loss of Honduras leaves Taiwan with 13 diplomatic allies. Who are they?
Taiwan allies are concentrated in Latin America and the Caribbean. Tsai will visit the two most prominent, Guatemala and Belize, on her upcoming trip.
Guatemala is a vocal Taipei supporter and reliable economic partner following a free-trade agreement effective 2007. Taiwan has invested millions of dollars in manufacturing, agriculture and tech businesses in Guatemala. As it became clear Honduras was aligning with China, Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation with which it has excellent diplomatic relations and a solid friendship.
Belize’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ministry said in a tweet this month that it recognizes Taiwan as a “sovereign and independent nation” and will work to strengthen bilateral relations.
Paraguay’s government said on Twitter that it shared democratic values with Taiwan, reiterating its cooperation.
Other allies in the region include Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia.
The rest of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies are in the Pacific — including the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu — as well as Eswatini in Africa and the Holy See (the Vatican City) in Europe.
Which other countries have cut ties with Taiwan recently?
Honduras became the ninth country to break ties with Taipei since Tsai assumed office in 2016.
In Africa, the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe cut ties with Taiwan in 2016, in a decision researcher David An labeled “surprising.” He noted in a brief for the U.S.-based Global Taiwan Institute that the break involved a “complicated mix of diplomacy, politics, economics and even personal ties among elites.” In 2018, Burkina Faso followed suit, its foreign ministry citing socioeconomic challenges.
In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic severed ties in 2018. It said it would recognize Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, the Associated Press reported, quoting the presidential office as saying the change was due to its “needs, potential and future prospects.”
In Central America, Panama shifted diplomatic ties to China in 2017, with its president calling the move the “correct path” for the country. He said China was the second-biggest user of the Panama Canal.
El Salvador shut its door on Taiwan in 2018. At the time, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry accused China of conducting “dollar diplomacy.”
Nicaragua in 2021 cut ties with Taiwan for the second time following a period of worsening relations with the United States, which imposed sanctions on a national security adviser of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. It had previously broken off ties in 1985, resuming them in 1990.
In Oceania, the government of Solomon Islands voted in 2019 to switch diplomatic relations to Beijing. A few days later, Taiwan lost the support of Kiribati, where China had pledged billions of dollars in aid, the Associated Press reported.
Meaghan Tobin contributed to this report.