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US Vice-President Kamala Harris (left) and her Taiwanese counterpart William Lai at the Honduran presidential inauguration ceremony on Thursday. Photo: CNA

US, Taiwanese vice-presidents have ‘brief exchange’ in Honduras

  • Kamala Harris says conversation was initiated by William Lai at Honduran presidential inauguration
  • President Xiomara Castro appears to walk back pre-election suggestion the Central American country will switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing
A brief conversation between the US and Taiwanese vice-presidents at the inauguration of the new Honduran president is likely to add to Beijing’s tensions with Washington.
US Vice-President Kamala Harris said she spoke to her Taiwanese counterpart William Lai about their shared interest in Central America and the US government’s “root causes” strategy to curb migration.

“The brief conversation that we had was really about a common interest in this part of the region and apparently Taiwan’s interest in our root causes strategy,” she told reporters, adding Lai had approached her.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, though its strong support for the island – both politically and through arms sales – is one of the main sources of friction between Beijing and Washington.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency characterised the encounter as a “simple greeting”, saying the two “talked briefly and interacted naturally”.

It carried a picture of them standing next to each other on a stage talking, both wearing masks, with Lai sporting a lapel pin of entwined Taiwanese and Honduran flags. Honduras is one of only 14 countries still to formally recognise Taiwan.

Honduras’ new president, Xiomara Castro – who floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing in her election campaign – told on Lai Wednesday that Honduras was grateful for Taiwan’s support and hoped to maintain their relationship.

Castro and Lai met again on Thursday, when he handed over a donation of supplies to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. “I appreciate the solidarity, as well as the willingness to support us in our development agenda,” she said on social media platform Twitter.

Taiwanese vice-president talks to at least 17 US lawmakers during stopover

Speaking after her meeting with Castro, Harris said they did not discuss China.

China has ramped up pressure to reduce the international footprint of Taiwan, which it regards as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties. Beijing – which last month re-established relations with Nicaragua – has openly said it is aiming to reduce the number of Taipei’s diplomatic allies to zero.

In the run-up to the Honduran election, a visiting US delegation made clear it wanted the Central American country to maintain its Taiwan relations, a sign of Washington’s concern about growing Chinese influence in its backyard.