February 7, 2024
GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala is considering reaching out to develop formal trade ties with China, the Central American country’s foreign minister told Reuters on Feb 5, although it plans to maintain its existing relations with Taiwan.
The Central American country is one of a handful of Taiwan’s remaining allies, as countries increasingly side with the world’s second-largest economy China, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its territory. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.
“We are going to continue working with Taiwan at the levels we have been doing,” Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martinez said in an interview. “But the president has pointed out that we cannot ignore the weight and power China represents.”
President Bernardo Arevalo assumed office in mid-January amid a fraught transition process, vowing to put an end to corruption and also establish relations with China.
“We are interested in approaching them to try and develop some relationship around trade,” Mr Martinez said, saying this could materialise as an “office of trade interests” that would help find a Chinese market for Guatemalan products.
“We are making it public, this is not an ambush against Taiwan or the United States,” he added.
Taiwan will continue to deepen exchanges and cooperation with Mr Arevalo and his new government on the basis of upholding their shared values of democracy and freedom, its Foreign Ministry said.
The US is Taiwan’s most important international backer, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, and a major arms supplier to Taipei.
China has in recent years increased its economic influence in Latin America, where countries have historically held closer ties with the US. Many Central American countries have in recent years switched loyalties from Taiwan to China.
Asked about Mr Martinez’s comments, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the “one China” principle is “the fundamental premise and political basis for China’s cooperation with all countries, including Guatemala”.
“It is hoped that the new government of Guatemala will respond to the historical and contemporary trend and make a correct decision as soon as possible that is in the fundamental and long-term interests of the Guatemalan nation and people,” Chinese spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Feb 6.
Taiwan, meanwhile, has signalled it no longer wants to compete with richer China in so-called “chequebook diplomacy”.
Regarding migration, Mr Martinez signalled a rights-based approach, saying the new government would not repeat the “repression” of prior administrations, such as throwing tear gas at groups crossing Guatemala, hoping to reach the US.
Cooperation on fighting corruption and drug trafficking will be key issues to discuss with US counterparts, Mr Martinez added, noting that US aid channels that were frozen under the previous administration are being re-established.
“The doors of cooperation are being reopened,” he said. REUTERS