Taiwan president visits Belize looking to shore up support

Taiwan President Tsai In-wen speaks at the Los Angeles Overseas Chinese Banquet in Los Angeles, California, US, August 2018. (Reuters pic)

BELIZE CITY: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Belize on Thursday as she seeks to shore up dwindling alliances in the face of pressure from China to stamp out the island’s international recognition.

Belize is one of 18 remaining countries that recognise Taiwan, with Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic shifting diplomatic ties to China earlier this year.

The Caribbean country’s decision to ditch Taiwan came after Panama, which turned from Taiwan to Beijing 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.

In a statement issued prior to 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 in the hundreds of millions of Belize dollars, ranging from scholarships to agricultural aid and healthcare, Elrington said.

Taipei has struggled internationally to maintain diplomatic relations with an increasingly assertive China, despite efforts in recent years to strengthen ties with generous aid packages.