Taiwan seeks to work with new Honduras government as China looms

Xiomara Castro, presidential candidate for the opposition Libre Party during the closing rally of her electoral campaign in San Pedro Sula
Xiomara Castro, presidential candidate for the opposition Libre Party, speaks during the closing rally of her electoral campaign in San Pedro Sula, Honduras November 20, 2021. REUTERS/Yoseph Amaya//File Photo

TAIPEI, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Taiwan will work with the Honduran president-elect Xiomara Castro to deepen relations on the basis of their long-standing friendship with the country, the government said on Wednesday, though she has floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing.

Honduras' conservative ruling party candidate late on Tuesday conceded defeat, paving the way for his leftist rival Castro to become the first female leader of the struggling Central American country, one of only 15 nations with formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan. read more

Taiwan, which had held off offering congratulations until formal results were in, said its ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Diego Wen, had "at the first moment" congratulated Castro on behalf of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

In a brief tweet on Wednesday, Castro expressed her gratitude, saying: "Many thanks President Tsai Ing-wen."

Honduras is an important friend in Central America, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said, and it is "obvious to all" the good results of their bilateral cooperation projects.

"On the basis of the long-term friendship established with Honduras, our country will deepen cooperation between the two countries with the new government team led by president-elect Castro, and jointly enhance the well-being of the two peoples," the ministry said in a statement.

Castro said in her election manifesto that she would "of course" seek to establish formal ties with Beijing if she won.

However, shortly after an unusually-timed visit to Honduras last week by Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, the Castro aide who wrote the manifesto said no final decision had been taken.

The two have a relationship dating back to 1941, before the Republic of China government fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists who established the People's Republic of China.

Hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also congratulated Castro, saying they looked forward to working with the next Honduran government.

Taiwan warned Honduras in the run up to the election not to be taken in by China's "flashy and false" promises.

China's efforts to win over Taiwan's friends have alarmed and angered Washington, which is concerned about Beijing's growing international influence.

Pacific island nations Kiribati and the Solomon Islands were the last countries to cut ties with Taipei in September 2019.

China views democratically-ruled Taiwan as one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a state, a view Taiwan's government strongly disputes.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes Editing by Christopher Cushing and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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