Presidents of Taiwan and Guatemala reaffirm ties amid China pressure

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Guatemala Presidency/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Guatemala Presidency/Reuters

The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and her Guatemalan counterpart, Alejandro Giammattei, took in the jungle ruins of a Maya civilisation citadel where they observed an ancient ritual before reaffirming diplomatic ties.

The two shook hands on Saturday in front of the stone pyramid known as El Gran Jaguar, vowing to maintain strong ties in the face of a diplomatic offensive by China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

The assembled dignitaries “witness today the strengthening of the friendship between our nations”, said Jenny Barrios, Guatemalan deputy culture minister.

Related: Anger in Taiwan, boasting in China in wake of Honduras switch

The two presidents walked to a nearby esplanade and shook hands for a symbolic official photo while a bonfire lit during a Maya dance ceremony burned. They also witnessed a traditional ballgame played in Mayan times.

In a meeting with Giammattei on Friday night, Tsai thanked him for his support last year when China conducted military manoeuvres near Taiwan.

She also highlighted cooperation with Guatemala, one of only 13 diplomatic allies the self-governing island has in the world, mostly small nations in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Latin America.

Speaking to the media with Tsai at his side, Giammattei called Taiwan “the one and only true China”.

Some Guatemalans believe their nation is losing economic opportunities by choosing Taiwan over mainland China.

“China is a market of more than one billion people, and it would be in the interest of some Guatemalan sectors to export and import products from China,” sociologist and political analyst Miguel Angel Sandoval said.

Honduras’s decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China led to accusations of “dollar diplomacy” being levelled at Beijing.

On Sunday, Tsai will visit a new hospital in the city of Chimaltenango, in western Guatemala, built with a $22m donation from Taipei.

Tsai’s visit, which will also take her to Belize, comes a few days after neighbouring Honduras broke diplomatic relations with Taipei to link up with Beijing, which refuses relations with countries that recognise Taiwan. The Honduran president, Xiomara Castro, is expected to visit China soon.

On her way home, Tsai will stop in California to meet with US house speaker Kevin McCarthy, a meeting that has prompted China to warn Washington that it is “playing with fire”.