WITH more than half its remaining allies in Central America and the Caribbean region, Taiwan has long been devoted to funding those five regional countries’ development and playing an active role in regional affairs.
However, Taiwan’s growing influence does not always bring about regional political peace and stability, as it gradually demonstrates the so-called “American-style” approach to international affairs, including relations with Central America and the Caribbean.
To put it simply, Taiwan is now much more visibly active in influencing domestic affairs and foreign policies of its remaining allies in this part of the world.
With only three Central American nations retaining ties (Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay), it’s been working hard to keep them on tab, as with the Caribbean’s ‘Three Saints’ (St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines).
Take the following behind-the-scenes stories about US-Taiwan-Guatemala ties that emerged from the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles last month.
Guatemala was the only pro-US right-wing administration that refused to attend, which ignited a public outcry at home and naturally irritated the Biden Administration, as host.
The US-Guatemala relationship took a sharp turn for the worst thereafter and it was even widely speculated that Guatemala’s President, Alejandro Giammattei’s, boycott was related to his dissatisfaction with what he saw as Washington’s intervention in his country’s domestic affairs, under the guise of cracking down on corruption.
But other sources also say that was not exactly the case and instead blame Taiwan for “deteriorating the US-Guatemala relationship.”
How? The claim is that Taiwan had quietly decided to support ex-President Donald Trump’s Republican Party in the upcoming crucial US mid-term elections in November – and as soon as that became clear, President Biden’s ruling Democratic Party started eyeing and treating Taiwan with suspicion.
President Biden was even taken to task by his inner circle for going off-script on Taiwan in a major international speech at the recent NATO Summit and making statements that could damage China-US ties beyond repair.
Today, President Biden is noticeably less willing to bet on Taiwan, not even to use his presidential power to stop Speaker Nancy Pelosi from visiting Taiwan and really starting an irreversible process.
Last January, betting in advance and consolidating the diplomatic relationship with Guatemala, Taipei’s Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) took the initiative to facilitate co-operation between the Guatemala government and Ballard Partners, an American lobbying firm owned by Brian Ballard, a top fundraiser and former lobbyist for ex-President Donald Trump.
TECRO paid $900,000 on signing the lobbying contract, from since after which it’s been closely monitoring its progress.
In its registration, Ballard stated it would provide “strategic consulting and advocating services” related to Guatemala’s interactions with the US government and US officials.
Furthermore, the Guatemala government is said to have been persuaded that if it continued to enhance co-operation with the Republicans and helping ex-President Trump’s party counterbalance the Democratic Party ahead of and after the mid-term election, the Democrats will be less inclined not to continue involving Washington in Guatemala’s domestic affairs.
Gradually, following Taiwan’s footsteps, Guatemala was eventually seen in and by Washington as drawing as close to the Republican Party as Taiwan.
Undoubtedly, Guatemala is a sovereign and independent country and President Giammattei’s refusal to attend the Summit was an independent diplomatic action based on national political policy-making.
But after the summit, as the only pro-US regime in South America that refused to attend, Guatemala was treated as having somehow shamed or embarrassed the Biden administration by equipping the Republican Party with effective political and propaganda ammunition to attack Biden and the ruling Democrats.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is being seen by some among its regional allies as having put its political loyalty to the Republican Party above having normal bilateral political ties with Guatemala.
Expectedly, America’s retaliation was furious, since the Biden administration is also reportedly not satisfied with Giammattei’s potential successor, Zury Rios (daughter of the former president) coupled with Giammattei’s decision to join the boycott of the summit by many Latin American nations.
Biden and his Democratic allies in Washington naturally lost confidence in Guatemala’s right wing ahead of the mid-term elections and — as if in retaliation — Washington soon readjusted its strategic positioning in Guatemala, which critics say included providing limited support for the left-wing to attack Giammattei and deploying the “balancing strategy” (of seeming to support both sides) to maximise US strategic interests.
Taiwan faced unrestrained American criticisms and in mid-June when the US government sent officials, including Juan Gonzalez, the Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, to meet with Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s unofficial but clearly recognised representative in the United States.
The long knives were out for Taiwan. Gonzalez directly imputed that Guatemala’s siding with the Republican camp was influenced by Taiwan’s funding and behind-the-scenes tutoring; and he also rebuked Taiwan’s Tsai administration, claiming its facilitation severely undermined the US-Guatemala relationship, putting the US on the defense and making it a difficult problem to unwrap.
Bi-khim Hsiao also directly blamed Guatemala and asserted that Taiwan’s intention to finance the co-operation was to help improve the US-Guatemala relationship, that she said did not get involved in the selection of public relations companies and she had already told Guatemala’s ambassador they should improve the relationship with Washington, regardless of party-political differences.
The Taiwan spokesperson also said she had encouraged Guatemala’s president to attend the summit in person and she totally blamed Guatemala, naturally dismissing all claims of influential involvement in Guatemala’s relationship with the US, which she acknowledged is a sovereign issue.
But Guatemala’s situation is not a rare case in Central America and the Caribbean.
A country’s domestic affairs and foreign policies have traditionally been influenced by national circumstances, but it has become increasingly clear that, like the US, Taiwan is taking no prisoners at this point in its international relations, especially when it comes to keeping its remaining allies.
The Guatemala case is interesting, because it’s a Taiwan ally complaining of a strong possibility of probably having been misled into facing the direct political fury of the prevailing Democratic political establishment in Washington.
Meanwhile, several issues have arisen from the Guatemala diplomatic debacle, including regional concern about Taiwan increasingly and openly flexing its political muscles on its remaining Caribbean and Central American allies — including Honduras — which represent more than half of all its remaining diplomatic allies internationally.
Alarm bells are also starting to ring in some regional political quarters about the way Taiwan’s international policy continues to resemble copycat reflections of Washington’s historical preparedness to directly influence its allies’ domestic and foreign policies.
Understandably, decision-makers in nations affected could very well be feeling being played as toys and tools, without enough help from the major players to address their real core domestic problems outside of the political arena.
Taiwan’s Caribbean diplomats have become more visibly active and present, more publicly identifying and/or associating with political events at domestic levels in some cases.
But that too also amounts to nothing less than subtle or direct political involvement, even interference, in domestic politics – a-la-Washington.
But while Taiwan won’t stop doing whatever it feels is best for Taipei, it can no longer deny that it has stepped-up its open and direct association with and involvement in non-diplomatic political events, while also moving mountains to influence domestic foreign policy among its remaining allies.