Taiwan ally warns of pivot to China in search of Covid vaccines
One of Taiwan’s few remaining allies has warned it may be forced to change diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing to gain access to Chinese coronavirus vaccines.
Carlos Alberto Madero, chief cabinet coordinator of Honduras, who looks like a prime minister, told the Financial Times the country wanted to avoid severing long-standing ties with Taipei. But he warned that access to vaccines was “much more urgent than anything else.”
The Central American nation was unable to purchase adequate stocks of Covid-19 jabs and suffered delays in deliveries on signed contracts. He inoculated less than 1% of its 9 million inhabitants.
“It puts us in a very difficult situation,” Madero said. “[The] Hondurans are starting to see that China is helping its allies and we are starting to wonder why ours are not helping us.
This could “undeniably lead to changes in foreign policy.”
Madero said Honduras had contacted the United States for vaccines and had been promised help, but had yet to receive any.
The US State Department said Washington was “deeply concerned” about the challenges Honduras was facing and noted that President Joe Biden had announced that 80 million doses would be distributed worldwide by the end of the month. of June. A spokesperson did not say whether Honduras would receive any of the vaccines.
Only 15 countries have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims to be part of its territory. Any decision by Honduras to turn away from Taiwan would raise alarm bells in Washington.
Over the past five years, China has used its economic might to persuade a third of Taiwan’s allies, including Panama in 2017 and El Salvador and the Dominican Republic in 2018, to change their diplomatic recognition.
The United States recently stepped up diplomatic engagement with Paraguay after Asunción said China offered to provide Covid-19 vaccines in return for deflecting recognition to Beijing. Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, called on the President of Paraguay, a move according to a US official aimed at giving public support to Taiwan’s allies.
The United States, which has traditionally had a strong influence in the region, has openly discouraged Taiwan’s last Latin American allies from switching sides. After El Salvador severed ties with Taipei in 2018, Washington said it would reassess its relationship with San Salvador.
Members of the “Quad”, a diplomatic and security grouping of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, agreed in March to create a plan to provide developing countries with jabs to counter diplomacy. Chinese vaccine. But some lawmakers want Biden’s team to focus more on America’s southern neighbors.
Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Marco Rubio, Republican senator, urged the president to provide vaccines to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, citing the need to counter similar movements in China.
“Without the commitment and leadership of the United States, our competitors will continue their efforts to use their less effective vaccines as leverage to compel countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to support a diplomatic agenda contrary to ours,” the officials said. senators in a letter last week.
China has shipped more than half of the 144 million doses of vaccine delivered to the 10 most populous countries in Latin America, according to an analysis by FT.
El Salvador’s access to Chinese vaccines has helped it immunize 16% of its population.
Honduras tried to buy Chinese vaccines, but was unable to secure a contract.
“We think geopolitics plays a role with vaccines,” Madero said. “Of course, you start to see that the countries that have the most relations with China have more access to vaccines.”
Juan Orlando Hernández, president of Honduras, raised the possibility of opening a trade office in China to try to improve relations.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry accused China of “using vaccines to trade political and diplomatic benefits for countries in urgent need”, which it called a “shameful act”.
Taipei is also working to get vaccines for its own population amid its first major Covid-19 outbreak.
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington