Guatemala City – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen began a visit to Guatemala and Belize on Friday to shore up ties with dwindling allies following a trip to the United States that angered China.
Tsai’s visit to the Central American neighbors comes after Honduras became the latest country to cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
The president had stopped in New York on the way, with announced plans to meet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
Washington had said there was no reason for China to “overreact” to the “normal, uneventful” trip, while Beijing warned the United States was “playing with fire.”
Tsai is due to arrive in Guatemala on Friday afternoon, where she is expected to hold talks with her counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and witness the signing of a cooperation agreement, according to her program.
On Sunday, she travels to Belize, where she is scheduled to meet Prime Minister John Briceno on Monday before departing the next day.
On her way back to Taiwan, Tsai plans to stop in Los Angeles, where McCarthy has said he will meet her.
Earlier this month, Honduras, a neighbor of Guatemala, cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized China.
The switch reduced the number of number of countries that diplomatically recognize Taiwan to 13.
Paraguay could follow next, with presidential elections due in April and opposition candidate Efrain Alegre having vowed to reevaluate ties with Taiwan.
That would leave only Guatemala, Belize, Haiti, the Holy See, Eswatini and seven small Caribbean and Pacific island nations diplomatically allied to Taiwan.
China considers the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day.
Under its “One China” policy, it does not allow countries to officially recognize both Beijing and Taipei.
Latin America has been a key diplomatic battleground since Taiwan and China separated in 1949, following a civil war when the communists seized power in China, while the nationalists retreated to Taiwan.
In recent years, Nicaragua shifted allegiance to Beijing in 2021, El Salvador in 2018, Panama in 2017 and Costa Rica in 2007.
The United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but maintains “a robust unofficial relationship”, according to the State Department.
It is Taiwan’s most significant ally and largest weapons supplier, despite having switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.
After Honduras’ move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington offered its “support to people on Taiwan” but that it also stood by its “One-China” policy.
“Countries have to make their own sovereign decisions about their foreign policies,” he said. “We leave that to them.”