Corinto (Nicaragua) (AFP) – A Taiwanese navy flotilla docked in Nicaragua on Monday in a high-profile visit highlighting ties with Central America and the Caribbean that are shrinking as China presses countries in the region to drop diplomatic relations.
The three vessels — described as being on a training mission — powered into Corinto, a port town on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, in a visit “to strengthen the ties of friendship,” Nicaraguan officials and Taiwanese diplomats said.
Some of the 800 crew members who disembarked put on a Taekwondo martial arts display after an inspection by Nicaraguan military brass.
The warships were Pan Shi, a modern and sleek Fast Combat Support Ship, Pan Chao, an older, US-designed frigate, and Kuen Wing, a more recent, French-made stealth frigate.
They were to stay in port for three days, with the crew of officers, sailors and cadets participating with the Nicaraguan military in joint training activities, the Taiwanese embassy said.
It was the sixth time Taiwan has sent a “friendship flotilla” to Nicaragua.
After Nicaragua, Taiwan’s navy ships were to go on to make stops in the Marshall Islands, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Taiwan is gradually running out of ports of call as China — which considers Taiwan a renegade province that will one day be brought back under Beijing’s control — presses countries to drop relations with Taipei.
Half the countries with which Taiwan has bilateral diplomatic relations are in Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is slowly losing ground there.
In June last year, Panama cut ties with Taiwan to open relations with China instead. Costa Rica did likewise in 2007.
– Assertive China –
The parts of Latin America that still have ties with Taiwan are the Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; the Caribbean states of Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, and Santa Lucia; and the South American nation of Paraguay.
Across the region, China’s increased investment and a more assertive foreign policy are being felt both economically and politically.
That trend has unsettled the United States, which views the Chinese interest as encroachment in a region that it once regarded as its backyard.
US President Donald Trump is to attend a summit of leaders across the Americas in Peru on Friday and Saturday.
White House officials said part of his focus would be on pushing back against “external economic aggression,” taken to mean China’s growing investment in the region.