Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Guatemala Friday on a visit to shore up ties with dwindling allies following a trip to the United States that angered China.
Tsai’s visit to Guatemala and its Central American neighbor Belize 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, and has announced plans to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on her return leg. Washington has said there is no reason for China to “overreact” to the “normal, uneventful” trip, but Beijing warned the United States was “playing with fire.”
Tsai arrived in Guatemala on Friday afternoon, where she was received with military honors and met by Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro.
She held a brief meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, whose government has declared Taiwan “the only and true China,” before the two staged a joint press conference reaffirming their bond.
“The ties between Guatemala and Taiwan are unbreakable,” Giammattei said. “We promote resolving disputes by dialogue and negotiation, and work together to satisfy people’s desire for freedom, prosperity, development, and territorial integrity,” he added.
“For Guatemala, this visit is very significant to renew and reaffirm the full support to the government of Taiwan, reiterating the recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation and as the only true China,” Giammattei said.
Tsai called Guatemala “a solid diplomatic ally of Taiwan” in a speech. “In recent years we have continued to consolidate our cooperation in the areas of health, economy, trade and basic infrastructure,” she said.
She also thanked Giammattei for his support last year when China was carrying out military maneuvers against the island.
On Saturday Tsai will visit the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal in the north of the country, and on Sunday she will head to the new Chimaltenango hospital in the west, built with a $22 million donation from Taipei.
Then she will travel 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.
Honduras, a neighbor of Guatemala, cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in March and recognized China. The switch reduced the 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.
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, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington offered its “support to people on Taiwan” but 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.”