TAIPEI, Taiwan—Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai left for Honduras on Jan. 25 amid a possibility that the Central American nation would drop diplomatic ties with the island in favor of the Chinese regime.
Lai is scheduled to attend the inauguration of Honduras’s President-elect Xiomara Castro on Jan. 27. Currently, Honduras is one of Taiwan’s 14 remaining diplomatic allies as Taipei has lost eight allies to Beijing since 2016.
Honduras and Taiwan have been diplomatic allies for 80 years as of 2021. Yet the relationship is now on shaky ground after Castro said during her campaign last year that she would “immediately open diplomatic and commercial relations with mainland China” once becoming president.
Lai’s overseas trip is currently under close scrutiny because there is a chance that he will meet with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is heading a presidential delegation to attend Castro’s inauguration. The United States is currently Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier despite the two sides not having a formal diplomatic relationship.
“As President Castro prepares to promote new policies, Taiwan will uphold the spirit of pragmatic diplomacy and mutual assistance, deepen cooperation with Honduras, and overcome various difficulties to benefit both countries’ peoples,” said Lai during a press briefing just before he boarded his flight.
As a sign of Taiwan’s determination to deepen ties with Castro’s government from the get-go, Lai said he would bring supplies to help Honduras combat COVID-19.
Aside from meeting Castro, Lai said she would have “interactions and exchanges” with leaders, deputy leaders, and representatives of “allies and friendly countries.” He did not name Harris or anyone else.
The trip will show the world that Taiwan “will bravely shoulder the heavy responsibility for the stability of regional and even international order,” Lai said.
He added, “The international community will understand that Taiwan is a trustworthy friend and Taiwan has the ability to help the international community.”
According to Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency, Lai’s delegation will have a stopover in Los Angeles before arriving in Honduras. They will return to Taiwan on Jan. 30 after stopping over in San Francisco.
China does not want to see Lai and Harris having any interaction in Honduras. When asked about the possible interaction by the two leaders during a briefing on Jan. 20, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said China “firmly opposes” any “official exchange” between Taiwan and the United States.
Zhao also disapproved of the U.S. decision to allow Lai transit through U.S. cities.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees self-governing Taiwan as a part of its territory that must be united with the mainland, by force if necessary. As a result, Beijing opposes anything that might suggest Taiwan’s de facto nation-state, such as Taipei becoming a member of international organizations, foreign government officials visiting the island, or Taiwanese government officials transiting through countries that have formal ties with Beijing.
The eight diplomatic partners that Taiwan has lost to Beijing since 2016 are: Nicaragua, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. Nicaragua is the most recent country to change diplomatic recognition when it broke ties with Taipei in December last year.
Beijing has boasted that it will continue to wrest away Taiwan’s diplomatic partners. Le Yucheng, China’s vice foreign minister, said on Jan. 18 that it was “a matter of time before [the number of] Taiwan’s diplomatic allies is zero.”
In November 2021, a U.S. State Department official told reporters in a telephone briefing that the United States would like to see Honduras keep its diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
On Jan. 21, Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) took to Twitter to say that he spoke to Harris and asked her to “meet directly” with Lai in Honduras.
Reuters contributed to the article.