(CNN) Honduras formally established and severed diplomatic relations with China TaiwanIt ended a decades-long relationship and was a blow to the self-governing island democracy in its struggle for recognition.
“The Government of the Republic of Honduras recognizes the existence of one China in the world and the Government of the People’s Republic of China represents China Overall,” its foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday local time.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and as of today, the Government of Honduras has informed Taiwan of the breakdown of diplomatic relations,” it added.
China, which has never ruled Taiwan, refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan.
It has spent much of the last 40 years trying to isolate the self-governing island democracy by alienating its diplomatic allies through economic support.
Honduras has so far been one of 14 countries to diplomatically recognize Taipei in Beijing.
After Honduras’ announcement, Taiwan confirmed that ties had been formally severed.
“To protect national sovereignty and dignity, we have decided to immediately suspend diplomatic relations with Honduras and suspend all bilateral cooperation programs,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told a press conference, adding that Taiwan is asking Honduras to close its embassy in Taipei.
In a video address on Sunday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Honduras’ decision was “deeply regrettable”.
“Repression and threats do not change the fact that the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China are not subservient to each other,” Tsai said.
“They will not undermine the Taiwanese people’s insistence on freedom and democracy and being part of the global community,” he continued, adding that Taiwan would work with like-minded countries to promote peace.
China also confirmed the move, signing a “Joint Declaration on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” with Honduras on Sunday.
“The two governments (China and Honduras) have decided to recognize each other and establish diplomatic relations at the diplomatic level, effective from the date of signing this statement,” said a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“There is only one China in the world and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government representing all of China. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” it added.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced on March 14 that the transition was imminent.
Castro, a democratic socialist who won a landslide victory in 2021, had said in his foreign policy manifesto before the vote that the Central American country wanted to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing.
China’s Communist Party has not ruled out using force to take over Taiwan one day. Under President Xi Jinping, China has increased military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the island, including pushing Taipei’s allies to switch their allegiance.
Taiwan had 56 diplomatic allies when it lost United Nations recognition in 1971. That number dropped to just 22 when Tsai took office in 2016, and has continued to decline for years since.
Most of Taiwan’s remaining allies are now small countries in Latin America and the Pacific, all of the world’s most powerful economies having shifted recognition to Beijing decades ago.
Beijing is using China’s largest market as a carrot and stick to extract the remaining countries, an approach many experts label “dollar diplomacy.”
According to Reuters, when the Solomon Islands transferred diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 2019, the Pacific nation was given $8.5 million in development funding by China.
Paraguay, the largest of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic partners, has on the other hand faced restrictions on soy and beef exports to China. Its president, Mario Abdo Benitez, last year openly called for Taiwan to invest $1 billion in his country so it can continue to resist “enormous” pressure to abandon the alliance.
“China’s rise has become the biggest challenge to our diplomacy,” Johnny Chiang, a lawmaker from Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party and a member of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, told CNN recently.
He said Taiwan is increasingly choosing not to match China’s “dollar diplomacy” — preferring to underscore shared values such as democracy.
How important is it?
Analysts differ on the significance they attach to the loss of Taiwan’s allies.
Some say official relationships are valuable, but only up to a point.
Having official allies helps give Taiwan a voice in the international community. For example, last October, 10 of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies signed a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denouncing the UN’s exclusion of Taiwan.
However, most of its surviving allies are relatively small and have limited influence on the world stage.
“They are vocal in the UN General Assembly, but their numbers are not enough to sway others who vote in favor of Beijing,” said J. Michael Cole said.
But others say Taiwan’s global influence is growing despite the loss of allies.
For example, Taiwan’s unofficial relationship with the United States — which withdrew diplomatic recognition from Taipei in 1979 — appears to many to have remained strong for decades.
The lack of diplomatic ties did not put off then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from making a controversial visit to Taipei in August — a visit to which China responded angrily, conducting unprecedented military exercises and firing missiles at the island.
That doesn’t stop current US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from planning to meet with Chai in early April, who plans to cross the US on his way to Central America, another trip widely expected to raise China’s hackles.
Experts point out that the U.S. is the biggest guarantor of the island’s security in the face of a possible Chinese invasion, and the U.S. supplies Taiwan with weapons every year — both of which it does without “official” diplomatic ties.
They also point out that the G7 nations (the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) were quick to voice concerns following China’s post-Pelosi military exercises.
Taiwan’s role as a global leader in the supply of semiconductor chips needed for everything from laptops to advanced weapons makes it a major trading partner for many Western democracies.
As Lev Nachman, an assistant professor of politics at National Chengchi University, recently told CNN, “Taiwan’s diplomatic partners are providing meaningful support, such as allowing official visits to Taiwan. What will really change, partners? The answer is not that much.”