Senior US envoy to travel to Panama, Honduras in coming days

On Tuesday, Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced it would seek diplomatic ties with Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - A high-ranking envoy of US President Joe Biden will travel to Panama and Honduras in March, the US Department of State said on Thursday, days after Honduras said it would establish formal diplomatic ties with China.

Mr Chris Dodd, the US special presidential adviser for the Americas, will visit the two Central American nations from Friday to March 21, the State Department said in a statement.

In recent years, the US has focused on migration and security challenges stemming from Central America, as well as trade and development priorities, but it has also been concerned about Chinese efforts to expand its influence in the region.

Mr Dodd, a former lawmaker, will meet with Honduran officials and private sector representatives, officials and finance leaders in Panama, as well as attend the Inter-American Development Bank annual conference.

“These visits advance the commitment of the United States to foster inclusive economic growth, democracy, human rights and rule of law in the Western Hemisphere,” said the statement.

On Tuesday, Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced that the country would seek diplomatic ties with Beijing, a move which would come at the expense of Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina said on Wednesday that the pivot to China was partly because Honduras was “up to its neck” in financial challenges and debt – including US$600 million (S$800 million) it owes Taiwan.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei on Friday, Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen reiterated a warning to Honduras not to trust China and its offers of money. 

“China has been suppressing Taiwan’s diplomacy, so it will invest funds related to specific countries in order to block Taiwan’s diplomatic development,” he said. 

Chinese investment as part of its Belt and Road energy and infrastructure network in these countries had mostly failed and led to financial difficulties, Mr Chen said. 

“Therefore, we very much hope that Honduras can recognise the true nature of China and hope they maintain diplomatic relations and not be deceived.”

China on Thursday denied that former Taiwan allies like Panama and El Salvador had not benefited since forging relations with Beijing, saying they had received “tangible benefits”.

If Honduras ends relations with Taiwan, it will leave the island with only 13 diplomatic allies.

While the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier. REUTERS

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