TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan Vice President William Lai will attend the inauguration of new Honduran president Xiomara Castro, Taiwan’s presidential office said on Wednesday, seeking to shore up ties as China ramps up diplomatic pressure against the island.
Taiwan’s government has said it would work with Castro to deepen relations on the basis of their longstanding friendship with the country, although Castro has floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing.
Castro is the first female leader of the Central American country, one of only 14 nations with formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
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.
Presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang said President Tsai Ing-wen hoped the delegation could help boost relations with Honduras and show the world Taiwan’s determination to participate on the world stage.
“Taiwan must also demonstrate to the international community that democratic Taiwan is a capable and responsible partner,” he said.
Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s high-profile de facto ambassador in Washington, will be part of the delegation for the Jan. 27 inauguration, Chang added.
Visits by senior Taiwanese leaders to allies in Latin America and the Caribbean are generally accompanied by layovers in the United States, where they often meet U.S. officials, to the anger of China.
Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui said there would be one-day transit stops in the United States, but declined to provide details, saying discussions were ongoing.
Asked whether Lai would meet U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also going for the inauguration, Yui said there would “definitely be an opportunity” to interact with other official delegations.
The United States has been eager for Honduras to retain relations with Taiwan, as it frets about growing Chinese influence in its backyard.
China has been stepping up pressure to win over Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, last month re-establishing ties with Nicaragua, and has openly said it is gunning to bring down the number to zero.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Editing by Gerry Doyle)