TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro said on Tuesday (Aug 30) that the Central American country will always support Taiwan, after China conducted its largest-ever military drills around the self-ruled island earlier this month.
Meeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei, Mr Bucaro said that Guatemala and Taiwan are "like-minded countries" united by a "democratic alliance".
"Guatemala will always support Taiwan because we have a firm belief in the principles of peace, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," said Mr Bucaro.
"Peace is non-negotiable, but especially sovereignty is non-negotiable," he added.
When asked to comment on Mr Bucaro's remarks, China's foreign ministry urged Guatemala to get a clear understanding of the "overwhelming trend in the international community" as well as refrain from emboldening the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
"The DPP authorities are seeking political manipulation by using certain countries having what they call 'diplomatic ties' with Taiwan. This deceptive gambit will not work. Nor will it hold back the inevitability of China’s reunification," said Mr Zhao Lijian during a regular media briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
Mr Bucaro's remarks come just a few weeks after Beijing concluded a barrage of military drills around Taiwan in response to a visit to the island earlier this month by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China regards democratically ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy, insisting that only the Taiwanese people can decide the island's future.
Mr Bucaro did not mention China in his remarks but said his visit to Taiwan was about "telling the world the importance of showing solidarity to the people of Taiwan, in the belief that only dialogue can prevail in the face of any conflict".
Ms Tsai noted in her remarks that Taiwan is the first "Asian country" Mr Bucaro visited since being appointed foreign minister and thanked Guatemala for its diplomatic support in the wake of China's military drills.
Guatemala is one of only 14 countries to retain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and one of three allies left in Central America, the other two being Honduras and Belize.
China opposes such visits as it views Taiwan as having no right to the trappings of a state, which Taiwan's government strongly disputes.
Beijing has been stepping up pressure to win over the island's remaining friends.
In December, China re-established ties with Nicaragua, and Beijing has openly said that it is gunning to bring down the number of Taiwan's friends to zero.
The issue has broader geopolitical implications as the United States has been concerned about China stepping up its activities in Central America.
In the run-up to the November presidential election in Honduras last year, a visiting US delegation made clear that it wanted the Central American country to maintain its Taiwan relations.
Ms Xiomara Castro, now the president of Honduras, had floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing during the election campaign. She has subsequently stood by Taiwan.