China has steadily advanced in the area in recent decades, becoming the leading commercial partner for the majority of Latin American countries.
At the start of the epidemic, Chinese state-owned firms including State Grid Corporation and Three Gorges purchased enterprises and projects in the electrical industry in Brazil (a BRICS member), Chile, and Peru, the report said.
Both of the latter nations, which are located on the Pacific Ocean’s east coast, have signed free trade agreements with China and are participants in Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In terms of accession, this ambitious Chinese programme has been fairly effective in Latin America: with Argentina’s confirmation, there are now 20 nations in the area that have joined the BRI, the report added.
The Taiwan issue has been at the heart of Beijing’s ambitions in Latin America, as China aims to expand the island’s diplomatic influence on a global scale while also annoying the US in its traditional backyard, the report said, adding that, China’s policy has paid off, owing to its unparalleled economic and financial attraction to Latin American nations.
In recent years, Taiwan has lost four Central American friends, namely, Panama (2017), El Salvador (2018), the Dominican Republic (2018), and Nicaragua (2018).
In all cases, the breaking of relations with Taiwan coincided with grandiose claims of Chinese investment and loans for these little countries, which Beijing has readily accommodated given the massive imbalances and acute financial requirements of these governments, the report said.
Other Central American countries are balancing between coercion and enticing offers from China, the report further said, citing the example of Honduras.
Following the election of socialist Xiomara Castro as president in 2021, all signs were that Honduras will similarly cut ties with Taiwan. During the campaign, Castro herself hinted at this. However, for the time being, Honduras remains allied with Taipei, thanks to a concerted US push to keep Castro in power and the diplomatic status quo intact.
During the epidemic, this asymmetry in favour of Beijing became even more apparent through so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” the report said, citing this time, the example of Paraguay, Taiwan’s sole South American ally, which had vaccination shortages at the height of the epidemic.
While neighbouring nations got doses of Chinese vaccines via Sinopharm, Sinovac, and CanSino, Paraguay was forced to rely on operations through Chile and other countries to get vaccines.
Beijing made it clear that things would have been different if Paraguay had severed ties with Taiwan, the report said.
It is not in Taipei’s best interests that the region’s few surviving diplomatic allies have a low relative weight in the regional economy, high levels of corruption, institutional fragility, and significant political volatility, the report said.
From Beijing’s perspective, it is only a matter of time before Taiwan’s final eight regional allies — Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – cut connections with the island and recognise the People’s Republic, the report concluded.