Taiwan navy flotilla visits Central America, Caribbean to help bolster diplomatic ties

Taipei feeling the pressure after some of its few international allies have switched allegiance to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 11:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 11:22pm

A Taiwanese navy flotilla docked in Nicaragua on Monday in a high-profile visit to highlight its ties to its remaining allies in Central America and Caribbean countries as Beijing presses countries in the region to drop diplomatic relations.

The three vessels – described as being on a training mission – powered into Corinto, a port town on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, in a visit “to strengthen the ties of friendship”, Nicaraguan officials and Taiwanese diplomats said.

Some of the 800 crew members who disembarked put on a Taekwondo martial arts display after an inspection by Nicaraguan military brass.

The warships were Pan Shi, a modern and sleek Fast Combat Support Ship, Pan Chao, an older, US-designed frigate, and Kuen Wing, a more recent, French-made stealth frigate.

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They were to stay in port for three days, with the crew of officers, sailors and cadets taking part with the Nicaraguan military in joint training activities, the Taiwanese embassy said.

It was the sixth time Taiwan has sent a “friendship flotilla” to Nicaragua.

After Nicaragua, Taiwan’s navy ships were to go on to make stops in the Marshall Islands, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

Taiwan is gradually running out of ports of call as mainland China – which considers Taiwan a renegade province that will one day be brought back under Beijing’s control after both sides split at the end of civil war in 1949 – presses countries to drop relations with Taipei.

Half the countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations are in Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is slowly losing ground there.

Panama cut ties with Taiwan in June last year to open relations with Beijing. Costa Rica did likewise in 2007.

The parts of Latin America that still have ties with Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, are the Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The Caribbean states with ties to Taiwan are Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic and Santa Lucia, plus the South American nation of Paraguay.

Across the region, mainland China’s increased investment and a more assertive foreign policy are being felt both economically and politically.

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That trend has unsettled the United States, which views the mainland Chinese interest as encroachment in a region that it once regarded as its backyard.

US President Donald Trump is to attend a summit of leaders across the Americas in Peru on Friday and Saturday.

White House officials said part of his focus would be on pushing back against “external economic aggression,” taken to mean the mainland China’s growing investment in the region.