Paraguay continues to stand with Taiwan despite Chinese aggression

In a major setback to the Chinese campaign of poaching Taiwanese allies, Paraguay has refused to switch sides and rather advocated for deeper ties and cooperation with Taipei.  “Let’s be true, partners, friends. I wish us to be ambitious in the objectives we want to achieve, said Paraguayan President Santiago Peña when he met new Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te.

Moreover, Peña slammed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s geopolitical offensive in Latin America. “It is growing and is very worrying. Many countries decide to strengthen their ties with China, because they have no other choice,” he said.[1] Recognising Taiwan instead of China has cost Paraguay its trade with the world’s second-biggest economy.[2] Paraguay is standing with its 66-year-old friendship with Taiwan, refusing to recognise the ‘One China’ principle.[3]         

Notably, Paraguay Senate had rejected the proposal to ditch Taiwan and establish a diplomatic relationship with China to get supplies of medical equipment and essential commodities during Covid-19 pandemic. The then Senator Sixto Pereira said “Paraguay cannot be imposed any kind of orientation from the outside.” Many brought attention to the substandard quality of Chinese supplies. Senator Lilian Samaniego said “It is not appropriate that ties with Taiwan” be put at risk for the Chinese supplies.[4]

A few days ago, Paraguayan Foreign Minister Ruben Ramirez Lezcano put a full stop to the reports of delinking with Taiwan for China. “We engage with Taiwan because of our peace, democracy, freedom, human rights conditions, the rule of law, principles which are very important,” he said.[5] Taiwan is left with recognition from just 12 countries now and all of them are not-so-powerful. Taipei accused Beijing of economic coercion and intimidation for some of its allies switching sides.[6]

Many countries have established diplomatic relationships with Taiwan. As the Chinese cooperation grew with the erstwhile Taiwanese allies, Beijing made them cut their ties with Taipei. The China-led economic and military coercion besides trade benefits have caused about 10 countries to sever ties with Taiwan in the recent past. This puts Taipei in a precarious situation as the number of its friends has reduced to just 12.[7]

Against such a backdrop, the unfettered support to Taiwan by Paraguay somewhat halted the Chinese campaign to paint Taiwan as a breakaway territory so it could be annexed. Lezcano said Paraguay would not ditch Taiwan for the trade with China. “We don’t accept any conditions for this kind of relationship with China because we don’t stop our diplomatic relations with Taiwan. We recognize Taiwan. Taiwan is quite important to Paraguay,” he said.[8] 

China even had forced through intermediaries Paraguay to cut ties with Taiwan in exchange for Covid-19 vaccines. Paraguayan government however refused the offer saying the “improper conditions” made no sense. “The distressing humanitarian situation caused by the pandemic should not be used … to pursue a political or economic aim,” asserted its foreign ministry. “The Covid-19 vaccine is an essential universal good, to which all countries must access timely and equitable manner to overcome the health crisis.” [9][10]       

Taiwan and Paraguay share a unique relationship that has been shaped by common experiences and continuous exchanges, according to a report by Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy. “The apparent strength in relations can be attributed to the unique historical trajectories of both Taiwan and Paraguay. The legacies of military-style authoritarianism and subsequent democratization have shaped the political identities of both Paraguayan and Taiwanese societies,” reads the report.[11]

During the recently held elections, the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party expressed its willingness to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing. However, the people in Paraguay rather chose to extend their support to strong relations with Taipei. Peña, who focused on strengthening decades-long relations with Taiwan, won the elections.

International observers pointed at failure to keep promises has created suspicion about Beijing. Isabel Bernhard, assistant director of Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Latin America Centre,       China invested just fifth of the promised sum in Panama. “China’s promises to new allies do not always materialize,” he said. “Infrastructure projects in countries like Panama and Nicaragua illustrate the gap between China’s past promises and current performance.”[12]