Taiwan warned Honduras on Thursday not to be tempted by the "poison" of aid from China no matter how indebted it was and ruled out getting involved in a bidding war for diplomatic allies with its mainland rival.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on Tuesday she had asked her foreign minister to open official relations with China. If the Central American country does end relations with Taiwan, it would leave the island with only 13 diplomatic allies.
Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina said on Wednesday the decision to switch allegiance to China was partly because Honduras was "up to its neck" in financial challenges and debt - including $600 million it owes Taiwan.
"We remind the Honduran government that it should not quench its thirst with poison, even if fully parched by debt obligations," the Taiwan ministry said.
Reina said Honduras had asked Taiwan to double its annual aid to $100 million but never received an answer. Honduras also tried to renegotiate the debt but it came to nothing.
Taiwan denied that, saying comments from the Honduran foreign minister did not reflect facts of their communications. Taiwan responded positively to Honduras proposals from start to finish, it said.
"We're still trying to maintain diplomatic ties, doing our best to fight for it, but we will absolutely not engage in money competition with China," the ministry said.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said former Taiwan allies like Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador have seen "rapid development" in bilateral relations, bringing them "tangible benefits".
China is willing to develop ties with all countries, including Honduras, on the basis of the "one China" principle, he said, referring to Beijing's position that China and Taiwan are part of one country.
"I believe this will create more opportunities for the economic development of Honduras and the well-being of its people."
The United States, Taiwan's most important international backer despite the absence of formal ties, was watching with concern as China has increased its footprint in Latin America at the expense of Taiwan.
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that China makes many promises it does not follow through on.
"The Honduran Government should be aware that the PRC (People's Republic of China) makes many promises that are unfulfilled," a State Department spokesperson said.
China does not allow countries with which it has diplomatic relations to maintain official ties with Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties, a position Taiwan strongly disputes. (Reuters)