ANALYSIS-US, China clash over Honduras as it weighs ties with Taiwan

A promise from a leading Honduran presidential candidate to embrace China and de-emphasis Taiwan ties if she wins Sunday’s election has sparked diplomatic scuffles between Beijing and Washington because each tries to influence the Central American nation.

Honduras, with a population of just under 10 million, is one of the shrinking clubs concentrated in Central America and the Caribbean which maintains relations with US-backed Taiwan, That China seen as a quirky province. left wing Honduran presidential hopeful Xiomara castro, who has tried to consolidate opposition to a decade of Conservative rule, said in her election manifesto that she would “naturally” try to establish formal ties with Beijing if she wins.

However, shortly after an unusually timed visit to Honduras through this week Brian Nichols, the U.S deputy secretary of state for the western hemisphere, the castros assistant who wrote the manifesto said no final decision has been made. Castro’s main opponent, the mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry Asfura, has expressed his position on China, but many expect him to continue existing policies. Asfura followed castros by 17 points in a poll published last month, though another poll showed a tie.

China’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Thursday from “arm-twisting” in Honduras ahead of the vote this weekend. “There is a competition going on in the America for influence,” said Dan Restrepo, who was U.S national security adviser for Latin America under former President Barack Obama.

“The Chinese are much more active than they were and the issue of recognition is very important to them,” he said, adding that Honduras switch to recognize China would be a “big change”. Taiwan says it will respect election results but has warned Honduras be wary of China’s “flashy and false” promises.

In her pursuit of the self-ruled island Taiwan, China recently completed some of its historic Latin American allies such as the Dominican Republic and recently El Salvador, on the condition that they sever ties with Taiwan. a senior U.S A State Department official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said President Joe Biden’s administration would like to see Honduran-Taiwanese ties continue, a message also emphasized by the Nichols-led U.S delegation this week.

“We said that directly to both top candidates,” the official told a small group of reporters, without going into detail about their answers. Washington believes castros now has a clearer picture of her stance and hopes she will take that into account if she wins, a senior U.S an official told Reuters.

A switch can mean more Chinese investment for Honduras, the third poorest country in America.

Honduran avocado grower Geovany Pineda, who also helps run a farmers’ association, is skeptical hopeful China would trump Taiwan to support agriculture. While pointing at a three year old Taiwanese program that has donated nearly $4 million to boost local avocado production, he suspects Honduras could get a better deal.

“I have heard that the countries that have established relations with… China get a lot more help,” he said. But not everyone is convinced that it threatens to weaken ties with the United States.

Juan Carlos Sikaffy, the head of Honduras’ main business lobby, COHEP, states that while China already good for no less than a fifth of Honduran imports – without formal diplomatic ties – U.S entrepreneurs have more to offer. “Economically, it is not in our interest to have (diplomatic) relations with” China because what we want is for American companies operating in China to move to Honduras,” he said, citing the lower transportation costs out of the country’s main northern port compared to goods going to the United States from Shanghai.

American Sen. Tim Kaine, a legislator who heads the chamber western hemisphere subcommittee, said: Chinese Investment in Latin America has a poor track record, citing last April’s election in Ecuador where a pro-American candidate was elected president after several major Chinese investments championed by its left-wing predecessors came under heavy scrutiny for substandard structures, among other controversies. The legislator warned Honduran leaders ahead.

“I don’t tell nations how to conduct foreign policy,” he said. “But desiring closer and closer relations with… China usually means you’re being tricked.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately comment when asked about Kaine’s comments.

Honduras and Taiwan have a diplomatic relationship dating back to 1941 before the Republic China government fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war. friction between China and Taiwan has risen under president Xi Jinping, whose hardline on Hong-Kong has fueled speculation that he will push harder to absorb what Beijing considers it its own territory.

Earlier this month, outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez made a surprise visit to Taipei after Taiwanese Officials there expressed concern about Castro’s campaign promise.

(With input from agencies.)

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