China is using its access to COVID-19 vaccines as a political tool to coerce several Latin American countries into cutting off official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The move comes as an attempt to further isolate Taiwan on the world stage and expand Chinese influence throughout the western hemisphere.
While several Latin American countries have received vaccine doses from China, countries that have existing relations with Taiwan, such as Honduras and Paraguay, have not. As both states struggle to acquire the much-needed vaccines, China is using access to the jabs as a carrot, in hopes that the Latin American countries will take the bait and ditch Taiwan for the communist regime. In Honduras, high-ranking government officials have signaled that such a strategy might be working.
Earlier this month, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez left open the possibility that Honduras could open up an official trade office in China in order to obtain the vaccines. According to Reuters, “Hernandez, frustrated rich countries have ‘hoarded’ global vaccine supplies, said poorer countries desperately need vaccines and his government was willing to do whatever was necessary to help its people during a global pandemic.”
Hernandez stated that in order for Honduras to acquire the vaccines, the country could follow advice from Beijing and look for a “diplomatic bridge” with the communist regime in order to do what’s in “the best interest of the Honduran people.”
Similar statements have been made by Carlos Alberto Madero, Honduras’s chief cabinet coordinator, who is akin to a prime minister. While speaking with the Financial Times, Madero stated that while the country wanted to avoid breaking ties with Taiwan, access to COVID-19 vaccines was “much more urgent than anything else.”
“This puts us in a very difficult situation,” Madero said. “The Honduran people start to see that China is helping its allies and we start to ask ourselves why ours are not helping us.”
Madero also added that the current ordeal could “definitely lead to changes in foreign policy,” in an apparent reference to a potential switch of diplomatic relations away from Taipei towards Beijing.
Attempts to cut off relations with Taiwan can also be seen in Paraguay, where government officials announced in March that they had been approached by unofficial brokers offering Chinese-made vaccines in exchange for breaking ties with Taipei. While the Chinese government has denied any involvement with the offer, Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Euclides Acevedo has gone on the record to state that Beijing has expressed interest in establishing relations with the South American country.
“President Xi Jinping has keen interest in partnering with us,” he said. “It’s a political debate that should draw input from all segments of the state and all of society.”
China’s actions have received condemnation from Taiwan, who has accused the communist regime of using the vaccines for political gain.
“The Chinese government is once again using vaccines to exchange political and diplomatic benefits for countries that are in urgent need, a shameful act of disregarding humanitarian needs,” said Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou. Paraguay and Honduras are among 15 countries that have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
U.S. intelligence officials have been sounding the alarm over China’s attempts to use the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to their geopolitical advantage. Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued its annual threat assessment report, detailing plans by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to harness vaccine diplomacy to boost Chinese influence throughout the world.
“China will try to increase its influence using ‘vaccine diplomacy,’ giving countries favored access to the COVID-19 vaccines it is developing,” the report warns, also noting that the Chinese government will make “offers of medical supplies and vaccines to try to boost their geopolitical standing.”
The report continued, stating that “The Chinese Communist Party will continue its whole-of-government efforts to spread China’s influence, undercut that of the United States, drive wedges between Washington and its allies and partners, and foster new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system.”
President Joe Biden recently announced plans to provide more than 80 million vaccines to other nations around the world, with Latin America set to be a priority. A timeline for shipment to the region is yet to be announced, however.