- China and Taiwan have been disputing who is China’s true global representative since the end of the civil war in 1949;
- China has been conquering Taiwan’s allies in recent years. After the breaking of diplomatic ties with Honduras, the island has now only 13 diplomatic allies;
- Tensions between China and Taiwan reinforce the impact of a hybrid war in the region.
Between 1927 and 1949, China experienced a civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), led by Mao Zedong, and the far-right nationalist government, led by General Chiang Kai-shek.
After several events such as the Japanese invasion and World War II, in which the nationalist government had an exponential military and economic weakening, together with the support that the Communist Party received from the countries that fought against Japan, the war finally came to an end with the victory of the communists and the creation of the People’s Republic of China.
Defeated, the nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan and created their own government, in which they began to consider themselves the real Republic of China.
Since the split, relations between China and Taiwan have remained tense, with both parties considering themselves the “real” China. Mainland China, led by the Communist Party, advocated peaceful reunification with Taiwan, but the nationalist-ruled island would not accept reunification as long as the Communists retained power.
In the 70s, the US President, Richard Nixon, began to create political ties with China, seeing the country as a possible container of the Soviet Union, and severed the diplomatic ties he already had with Taiwan.
This made China open up to the international market and gain influence, with most countries choosing their side in this dispute. Taiwan, in turn, invested in small countries around the world to maintain diplomatic relations, such as Honduras, which recently decided to ally itself with China.
The most recent country to switch diplomatic alliances between Taiwan and China was Honduras
Little by little, China has been winning over Taiwan’s allies, offering higher investments and greater benefits than if the countries continued diplomatic relations with the island.
Recently, the last country to carry out this change of diplomatic ally was Honduras, which ended a years-long partnership with Taiwan with government declarations recognizing mainland China as the true representative of China as a whole.
On the part of China, the country declared that it had signed a “Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” with Honduras at the end of March 2023, reinforcing that both countries decided to recognize each other and establish relations.
Taiwan confirmed what Honduras’ statements implied: relations between the countries had been severed.
Tsai Ing Wen, the president of Taiwan, declared that despite the Honduran government’s speech, mainland China still does not represent the island of Taiwan. In addition, there is pressure for Honduras to close its embassy in Taipei, the capital of the island.
In addition, Taiwan also accused China of “conquering” Honduras through financial incentives that represent “a series of Chinese coercion and intimidation”, declared the office of the president of the island.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also said that Honduras had asked Taiwan for financial aid of US$90 billion for hospitals, the forgiveness of a debt of US$2 billion, as well as US$350 million for the construction of a dam, before to sign diplomatic agreements with China.
In the impossibility of satisfying the demands of Honduras in a clear diplomatic blackmail, Taiwan lost political ties with Tegucigalpa.
Which countries still maintain diplomatic alliances with Taiwan
After the breaking of diplomatic alliances that Honduras maintained with Taiwan, the island still has 13 small allied nations remaining around the world, they are:
- Tuvalu: country in Oceania;
- Paraguay: country in South America;
- Saint Kitts and Nevis: country in the Caribbean;
- Belize: country in Central America;
- Eswatini: country in southern Africa;
- Haiti: country in the Caribbean;
- Guatemala: country in Central America
- Marshall Islands: country in Oceania
- Nauru: country in Oceania;
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: country in the Caribbean;
- Palau: country in Oceania
- Holy See in the Vatican: Administration, Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered an independent city-state that maintains political relations with countries around the world;
- Saint Lucia: country in the Caribbean.
Which countries has been favoring Taiwan the most over China
While Honduras is leaving its alliance with Taiwan to become a partner of China, some countries are calling attention for taking the opposite path, giving priority to the island of Taiwan and leaving mainland China aside, with growing diplomatic tensions.
The biggest examples of this are:
- Lithuania: The northeastern European country reaffirmed at the end of 2022 that it would strengthen its relations with Taiwan even if it provoked tensions with China. Thus, a new Baltic country trade office started operations on the island of Taiwan.
The government of Lithuania has declared that, together with Taiwan, both are like-minded partners.
It is worth noting that, previously, China even punished Lithuania for openly supporting Taiwan, with the vice minister of transport visiting Taipei. This relationship alarms Europe, which prefers to deal with Beijing more cautiously.
Lithuania is emerging as one of Taiwan’s most unlikely but outspoken allies in Europe, following a “values first” foreign policy.
- Slovakia: In mid-2022, Taiwan signed a cooperation agreement for the first time with a European Union country. All of this took place at the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with representatives from both countries in attendance.
For Slovakia, the agreement was intended to open doors for possible trade and investment relations with Taiwan. The agreement meant, for Taiwan, an increase in its international diplomatic position.
The consequences of the hybrid war between China and Taiwan for geopolitics
Currently, China is one of the world’s greatest powers and its diplomatic relations and decisions end up, in some way, impacting world geopolitics.
In addition, these tensions between China and Taiwan, which are capable of affecting how the whole world is organized and polarized depending on its interests and the current context, are part of a hybrid war, with no bellicose attack, but only a diplomatic one, in which China is making steady strides in winning over allies that previously supported Taiwan.
Mainland China has been gradually weakening Taiwan diplomatically, ending decades-old agreements that other countries had with the island, as doing so militarily would not be feasible for the country as an armed attack would be a major escalation and likely lead to a military reaction of the United States and economic reaction of the European Union.
Thus, a hybrid war where mainland China tries to indirectly weaken Taiwan into submission is the most likely tactic to be used. However, due to the geostrategic importance that Taiwan has in the production of high-capacity microprocessors, the island will be able to count on the protection of the US and the EU against Beijing, whether against hybrid or warlike attacks.
At the end of the day, it is more important for Taiwan to maintain economic and military relations with the US and Europe than with small countries around the world. In this way, this diplomatic attack by mainland China against Taiwan is unlikely to lead to the result expected by Beijing, even if at great political and economic cost.