Photo by Tsai Ing-wen: VCG

Taiwan on Friday reduced tariffs to zero on 25 goods imported from Honduras under a free trade agreement. The tariff reduction was originally agreed in 2019. While the deal was intended to boost trade at the time, Taiwan’s latest move amid the current political dilemma aims to keep the Central American country, one of his 14 “remaining diplomatic allies,” desperately at his side.

Tsai Ing-wen’s secessionist authorities realized that they could not entirely rely on verbal support from the United States to maintain relations with its Central American “allies”. After diplomatic relations between China and Nicaragua resumed in December, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) faced enormous public pressure to offer incentives to Honduras, from which the new president claimed to be breaking. links with the island.

For Honduras, the only advantage it can derive from maintaining “diplomatic” relations with Taiwan is only some short-term economic interests and verbal support from the United States. As the backyard of the United States, Honduras is bound to face more than diplomatic pressure from the United States. Before winning the presidential election in November, Xiomara Castro of the leftist Freedom and Refoundation party said that if she won, she would establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. But his team later changed that position. It is believed that the United States had pressured the new government.

After Nicaragua resumed relations with China, the US Treasury Department on January 10 announced sanctions against six Nicaraguan officials following the country’s November elections. This decision is seen as a retaliatory measure against the resumption of Nicaragua’s relations with China. But on the same day, China and Nicaragua signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China. This shows the waning strength of US sanctions.

The United States once recalled the ambassadors of the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama following those countries’ decision to no longer recognize Taiwan. But the three countries insisted on following the general trend of international politics and believed that establishing diplomatic ties with China was the right step on the right path. It can be seen that the influence of the United States in the Latin American region is in decline, because in the eyes of regional actors, the United States is an unreliable leader whose commitments are all based on “the America of on board”.

But as Honduras deals more with the United States and Taiwan, it will understand why Nicaragua and other countries in the region made the decision to abandon Taiwan. If the new government of Honduras has a strategic and long-term vision, it is bound to move closer to the Chinese mainland, because it benefits its national interests. Taiwan’s offer of zero tariffs is just a matter of opportunism to keep Honduras on its side, but will not change the trajectory of Taiwan’s shrinking “allies”. During Tsai’s tenure, she has already lost eight “allies”, which proves the unattractiveness of her “dollar diplomacy” and that such “diplomacy” cannot help Tsai achieve her political goals.

It should be noted that according to media reports, Castro invited Tsai to attend his inauguration on January 27, but Lai Ching-te, Tsai’s deputy, will be sent to attend. From Tsai’s perspective, this arrangement has two calculations. For one thing, it happened before Panama severed ties with Taiwan shortly after Tsai’s visit to the country, earning him a slap in the face. Therefore, she believes a visit to Honduras will give her a political boost, but would like to avoid such embarrassment from happening again.

Second, internal struggles are fierce within the DPP. As the contradiction between Tsai and Lai became public, Lai made no secret of his ambition to not just want to be Tsai’s deputy. If the Panama case happens again, Tsai can easily point the finger at Lai. This proves that in managing relations with Honduras, Tsai has prioritized his political agendas rather than thinking about a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

After Nicaragua resumed relations with China, Taiwan has only 14 “diplomatic allies” left. However, 14 will not be the last number, nor will 13. The one-China principle is recognized by the international community and Taiwan should not have any “diplomatic allies”.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Studies of the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies. [email protected]