Ties with China beneficial, its envoy tells new El Salvador leader

BEIJING (Reuters) - El Salvador’s decision to establish ties with China was correct and the two countries have bright prospects, a Chinese envoy told El Salvador’s maverick new president, who has been critical of Beijing.

Nayib Bukele, a 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador and a political outsider who was elected in February as the next president of the Central American nation, had questioned whether his country should maintain diplomatic relations with China.

In March he accused the Asian giant of not playing by the rules and intervening in other nations’ affairs.

Last August, El Salvador broke ties with Taiwan to establish relations with China, following the Dominican Republic and Panama.

China later offered El Salvador about $150 million for social projects and 3,000 tons of rice to feed thousands of drought-hit Salvadorans.

Meeting Bukele in San Salvador on Friday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang offered congratulations from President Xi Jinping, the foreign ministry said.

“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, exchanges and cooperation between the two sides in various fields have developed rapidly and presented broad prospects for development,” the ministry on Saturday cited Qin as saying.

“The facts prove that China and El Salvador establishing ties accords with the trend of the times, has enjoyed popular support and is the right decision.”

The statement cited Bukele, who takes office on Saturday, as saying the new government is committed to continuing to develop ties with China and would “correctly handle Taiwan-related issues”.

Beijing’s growing role in Latin America has unnerved Washington.

In August, the White House warned that China was luring countries with incentives that “facilitate economic dependence and domination, not partnership”.

Bukele has been critical of the benefits El Salvador received after establishing diplomatic ties with China.

The outgoing government of Salvador Sanchez Ceren has defended its decision to open ties with China and has accused Bukele of receiving orders from the United States to cut ties with the country.

China views self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as merely a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations. Now Taiwan only has ties with 17 countries, almost all small developing nations such as Belize and Nauru.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez