WASHINGTON – The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China.
The move comes as U.S. officials have expressed growing unease over China’s rising influence in the region.
The diplomats, who represent the United States in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, will meet with leaders in Washington “to discuss ways in which the United States can support strong, independent, democratic institutions throughout Central America and the Caribbean,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.
For decades, Taiwan and China have competed for recognition. In 1979, the United States switched its support and officially established sovereign relations with China, and many other countries followed. But Washington has supported any decisions by nations to continue recognizing Taiwan, a self-governing island that China wants to bring under Communist Party rule.
In recent years, China has had success in courting Taiwan’s diplomatic partners. Only 17 nations recognize Taiwan; outside the Vatican and Swaziland, they are all islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea or countries in Latin America.
U.S. officials have expressed growing concern over the shift. The United States sells arms to Taiwan and maintains a diplomatic presence there, called the American Institute in Taiwan. U.S. officials see Taiwan’s de facto independence as an important hedge against Chinese dominance in the Asia-Pacific region — what the United States now calls the Indo-Pacific as it tries to strengthen ties with South Asian nations to balance against China.
Last month, El Salvador severed ties with Taiwan, prompting the White House to accuse China of “apparent interference” in El Salvador’s domestic politics. U.S. officials fear that the four nations in Central America that still recognize Taiwan — Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — could soon follow. In May, Burkina Faso switched recognition to China, leaving Swaziland as the lone holdout in Africa.