Taiwanese president courts ally Haiti during Caribbean tour

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen (centre left) and her Haitian counterpart Jovenel Moise (centre right) shake hands during their brief meeting in Haiti. (AFP pic)

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen made a brief visit to Haiti on Saturday without unveiling new spending commitments, as she courts Taipei’s dwindling allies in the Caribbean in a diplomatic struggle with China.

Since Tsai became president, Beijing – which considers Taiwan part of its territory – has poached five of the island’s shrinking roster of allies, including Haiti’s neighbour the Dominican Republic.

She spoke with her Haitian counterpart Jovenel Moise for half an hour to discuss possible cooperation in education and infrastructure, without providing specific details.

Taipei has allocated $150 million to the country to help electrify its territory but the funds have not been allocated because they have yet to be ratified by the Haitian parliament.

Port-au-Prince is in the middle of a protracted political crisis which has sapped the country’s ability to leverage financial concessions out of Taipei.

Growing street protests have demanded Moise’s resignation, and he has not had a functioning government for months, with parliament barely able to get enough attendees to hold a session.

Before continuing her regional tour by departing to Saint Lucia on Saturday night, Tsai told a joint audience of local and Taiwanese business leaders that she wished “with all my heart for political and social stability in Haiti.”

Haiti is now one of only 17 countries in the world to still officially recognize Taiwan but has vowed to maintain ties with the island.

Taiwan has ruled itself for seven decades but most countries do not recognize it — including the United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Yet Washington remains its most powerful unofficial ally and biggest arms supplier and has pressured Haiti to maintain its relationship with Taipei.

China has vowed to one day to reassert control over the island, by force if necessary.