TAIPEI (AP) — Outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández started a three-day surprise visit to Taiwan on Friday as the self-ruled island, which is also claimed by China, worries that the next president of the Central American nation may break off relations and switch to diplomatic ties with Beijing.
Hernández and his wife will meet President Tsai Ing-wen as part of a celebration of 80 years of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Honduras. He will also visit the Central American Bank for Economic Integration office in Taipei, a Honduran development bank.
Hernández’s trip comes just weeks ahead of the presidential election in Honduras. He is due to leave office in January and has become increasingly isolated him as he is facing allegations of ties to drug traffickers from U.S. federal prosecutors in New York. His brother had been arrested in Miami in 2018 by U.S. authorities on suspicion of drug trafficking.
Politically, there’s little to gain in his trip. Hernández will not be able to run for office again, said Antonio C. Hsiang, a professor at La Academia Nacional de Estudios Y Estrategicos, who studies Latin America studies. Instead, Hernández is likely in Taiwan to seek support, financial or otherwise, he said.
Taiwan, meanwhile, is concerned about the election as one of the leading candidates has openly said she is in favor of establishing ties with China, which means Honduras will cease recognizing Taiwan as a country.
Xiomara Castro, the presidential candidate, said in a June 28 post on her Facebook page: “I believe in multipolarity and because of that I propose opening international relations with continental China, which would help the country incorporate into the market with the market of the world’s greatest growth.”
China has been on a campaign to poach Taiwan’s allies, of which only 15 remain. China has been using diplomatic and economic methods to persuade countries to switch their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.
China says Taiwan is not a country and is merely another province, to be reunified by force if necessary. Taiwan says it has essentially been functioning independently as a country since the two sides split after a civil war in 1949.
Associated Press writer Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras contributed to this report.