The 13 countries still standing with diplomatic ties to Taiwan after Honduras shuts down embassy

Honduras has issued an ultimatum to Taiwan to leave its embassy in the country within a month, following president Xiomara Castro’s bid to mend relations with China.

Honduras’s decision has left the embattled island nation of Taiwan with just 13 allies.

The move aims to attract more investment and jobs from the Asian giant, announced deputy foreign minister Antonio Garcia.

Mr Garcia issued the order on local television and emphasised the need for a diplomatic mission to China. He suggested that China could invest up to $10bn in Honduras, which would be a boon for local workers.

“We have to go there to explore the big projects that China can give us,” he told local media on Monday.

The foreign ministry also announced that Honduran students with scholarships in Taiwan would be able to transfer their studies to China.

Mr Garcia said 30 days “is more than enough time to pack up and leave”, adding that officials aim for an “orderly, friendly” exit.

Reacting to the comment, Taiwan foreign ministry spokesperson Jeff Liu said 30 days was an “international norm”, and that they would comment further later.

Taiwan’s embassy in Tegucigalpa was one of the Central American capital’s most prominent foreign outposts, and the move leaves Taiwan with only 13 formal allies.

Earlier this month, Honduras announced that it will seek diplomatic ties with China, in a major blow to Taiwan. President Xiomara Castro said she had instructed her foreign affairs minister to start negotiations with China and expressed her intention to “expand frontiers freely in concert with the nations of the world”.

The statement was welcomed by China’s foreign ministry. However, as expected, it drew a strong response from Taipei, which is scrambling for international support under increasing threats from China.

Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs said it had “expressed serious concerns to the Honduran government”, requesting it “to consider carefully and not fall into China’s trap or make wrong decisions”.

The move has left Taiwan with only 13 diplomatic allies as more countries have begun to give in to Chinese influence and support its “One China Policy”.

Last country to break-off ties before Honduras

In December 2021, another central American country, Nicargua, decided to break off its decades-long ties with Taiwan, leaving it with only 14 allies at that time.

Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Denis Moncada Colindres, did not explain the reasons behind the decision, but it was believed that China’s continuous pressure on Taiwan’s official allies to sever ties with the island, which Beijing claims as a territory under what it calls the “one China” policy, was the reason behind it.

Who are Taiwan’s remaining allies?

In 2016, Taiwan had formal ties with 22 states, but as Chinese pressure builds up, the country is only left with 13 allies with Honduras being the latest to break off ties.

Most of Taiwan’s 13 allies are small, poor island nations in the Pacific, Caribbean, Latin America and Southern Africa.

They include Belize, eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Guatemala, Haiti, the Holy See (the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church), the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu.

Honduras’s decision is worrying for Taiwan, which is facing increased aggression from China, especially after Nancy Pelosi’s visit in August last year.

It is not clear what has prompted Honduras’s government to change its mind, but China, which is building a massive dam in Honduras, generally uses trade and investment as incentives for switching ties, as it has done successfully with Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and, most recently, South Pacific nations like the Solomon Islands.

The country had lost the support of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands in 2019 and Nicargua in 2021.

In Latin America, only Belize and Paraguay have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

The ‘unofficial’ allies

While the number of official allies is down to 13, Taiwan still has the support of some countries that officially align with the “One China Policy” but still host its offices. The biggest such ally is the United States, which has not just increased its support for Taiwan off late but has done it at the cost of angering Beijing.

Taiwan has over a hundred diplomatic missions around the world and 59 United Nations members maintain relations with the island nation on an unofficial basis.

This includes countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, India and even China, where the country has a de-facto consulate along with Hong Kong.

Why is China isolating Taiwan?

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and claimed in the past that it will go to war if necessary to bring it under its control. It refuses most contacts with countries that maintain formal ties with Taiwan and threatens retaliation against countries that increase their contacts with Taiwan.

China expelled Lithuania’s ambassador, downgraded diplomatic ties and blocked trade with the Baltic country of 2.7 million people after it boosted relations with Taipei in 2021.

Meanwhile, Taiwan supplies its remaining allies with agricultural exports, vocational training programmes and other forms of economic aid.

But budgetary restraints imposed by its democratically elected legislature limit the island nation’s ability to splurge on infrastructure development as China does.

The restraints prevent it from spending money for sports stadiums, conference halls and government buildings, as China does.

Taiwan maintains robust informal ties with over 100 countries, despite China’s campaign of isolation. But the Asian giant’s diplomatic offensive has begun to raise concerns in the US as its rivalry with Beijing increases.

The Joe Biden administration has proposed spending billions to keep three Pacific countries in the US orbit, fearing China could use its gains in the region to threaten US security.

Additional reporting by agencies