China: Knock-Knock. Who’s there? US. US who?

China strengthens its foothold in Central America.

In a significant development, China has expressed its willingness to engage in talks for a free trade agreement with Honduras. President Xi Jinping made this announcement during the first visit by President Xiomara Castro of Honduras since the two countries established diplomatic ties in March. President Castro’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China, cutting ties with Taiwan, was commended by President Xi for demonstrating strong political determination. 

During their talks in Beijing, President Xi stated that China would actively promote Honduran products in the Chinese market. Additionally, Chinese customs has approved the import of Whiteleg shrimp from Honduras, opening new opportunities for trade. China is also encouraging Chinese companies to participate in Honduran projects related to energy, infrastructure and telecommunications. Both sides expressed willingness to provide policy support and facilitation, highlighting the cooperative nature of their engagement. 

President Xi emphasised the importance of deepening political mutual trust and upholding the ‘One-China’ principle to establishing loyal diplomatic relations and fostering bilateral ties. A Former Panamanian Ambassador to South Korea commented, “Chinese culture and thinking is based on perseverance, patience and long-term vision. Turning allies against Taiwan is essential. Hence Bejing’s rapprochement with countries that until now recognised relations with the island”.

“Chinese culture and thinking is based on perseverance, patience and long-term vision. Turning allies against Taiwan is essential.” 

A Former Panamanian Ambassador to South Korea

When Honduras severed its ties with Taiwan, the island nations foreign minister accused Honduras of demanding exorbitant sums before being enticed by Beijing. China asserts its claim over Taiwan and opposes any state-to-state relations with it. The Honduran foreign ministry clarified that it recognised the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government representing the entire Chinese territory, including Taiwan. 

The United States is closely monitoring China’s expanding influence in its neighbouring region, especially its efforts to lure away Taiwan’s Central American allies. “China is very skilful and is sending messages to different regions of the world because it needs to underline its global role as a new power,” a retired Salvadoran diplomat recognises, “China has its priorities like any power, but in the case of Central America this will not be resolved until the whole region recognises the One-China policy.” 

“China has its priorities like any power, but in the case of Central America this will not be resolved until the whole region recognises the One-China policy.”

A retired Salvadoran diplomat

The US has repeatedly cautioned countries against relying on China’s aid promises. “The obvious obstacle is the pressure the US may exert in Central America, in the interest of preventing Chinese advances in its backyard,” noted a former Panamanian Ambassador. In this context, President Xi reassured Honduras that China supports its independent choice of a development path aligned with its national conditions. China opposes any external interference in Honduras’ internal affairs, highlighting its respect for the country’s sovereignty. But as the former diplomat also highlights, “Radicalism today in Honduras in the face of the new government in Guatemala and Bukele’s re-election attempts in El Salvador do not augur well for a realistic front for a free trade agreement.” 

The willingness of China to engage in a free trade agreement with Honduras marks a significant step in their bilateral relationship. It offers Honduras opportunities for economic growth, access to the Chinese market and potential investments in various sectors. While the United States closely observes China’s regional influence, China emphasises its commitment to respecting the sovereignty and development choices of its partner countries. “If China brings a programme to help create development in works such as port infrastructure, roads and technological scholarship support programmes, there would be no reason to say no, at the expense of the United States”, asserts the former diplomat. It looks as if the future of China-Honduras relations holds prospects for trade expansion and stronger diplomatic ties. 

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