Taiwan leader visits Belize as drive to preserve island’s last diplomatic alliances continues

Tsai Ing-wen arrives in Central American nation amid increased pressure from mainland China to peel away Taipei’s last allies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 10:07pm

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Belize on Thursday as she sought to shore up the island’s dwindling alliances in the face of growing pressure from mainland China.

Belize is one of 18 remaining countries that recognise Taiwan, after Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic shifted their diplomatic ties to Beijing earlier this year.

The Caribbean country’s decision to ditch Taiwan followed a similar move by Panama in June 2017.

Tsai arrived in Belize on Thursday for her first state visit to the tiny Central American country after a stop in the United States and ahead of a visit to Paraguay. She met privately with Belize’s foreign minister and other government officials.

Later she was expected to receive the “Order of Belize,” an honour awarded to foreigners, before speaking on Friday to Belize’s House of Representatives.

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In a statement issued before Tsai’s visit, the Taiwanese embassy emphasised that the trip would reaffirm the strength of the island’s relationship with Belize, with which it has maintained diplomatic ties since October 1989.

Belize “remained Taiwan’s staunch ally in its bid for participation in UN agencies,” the statement said, adding: “Taiwan is Belize’s loyal and trustworthy ally.”

Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington told Reuters this month that he was “very content with the relationship we have with Taiwan.”

Taiwan offers Belize financial aid worth hundreds of millions of Belize dollars, ranging from scholarships to agricultural aid and health care, Elrington said.

Taipei has struggled internationally to maintain diplomatic relations with an increasingly assertive mainland China, which regards the island as a breakaway province, despite efforts in recent years to strengthen ties with generous aid packages.