China and Honduras: A diplomatic deal
By An Xinzhu & Michael Zárate  ·  2023-04-03  ·   Source: NO.14 APRIL 6, 2023
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang shakes hands with Honduran Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina after signing a joint communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations in Beijing on March 26 (XINHUA)

On March 14 this year, Honduran President Xiomara Castro posted on her personal Twitter account that she had instructed the country's Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina to oversee the start of Honduras' diplomatic relationship with China.

On March 25, Honduras announced it was ending its decades-long "diplomatic relations" with China's Taiwan region. The next day, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Reina signed the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of Honduras in Beijing.

The two sides decided to establish diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, effective from the date of signature, making Honduras the 182nd country to forge diplomatic ties with China and recognize the one-China principle.

Following the signing ceremony, the Honduran Foreign Ministry iterated that its government recognizes that there is but one China in the world, the Government of the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory.

A new chapter

During their meeting, Qin articulated China strongly supports Honduras' participation in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilizations Initiative for practical cooperation and exchanges.

As Qin stressed, the central and local governments, political parties, plus culture, education, media and tourism sectors of both China and Honduras should launch cooperation mechanisms as soon as possible to improve consensus and bilateral relations. "The establishment of diplomatic ties will benefit the people on both sides, boost developing countries to strengthen solidarity and cooperation and improve democracy in international relations," he added.

According to Xu Shicheng, a research fellow with the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Honduras is a political decision without conditions attached. The choice of the Honduran Government to recognize the one-China principle was in line with the fundamental and long-term interests of Honduras and its people, Xu said.

The establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries marks a new chapter in bilateral relations and injects new impetus into cooperation between China and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Twenty-one LAC countries have so far signed memoranda of understanding on cooperation on the BRI, an initiative that aims to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes, with China. Cooperation between the LAC countries and China under this initiative has yielded tangible, positive results and promoted their economic development—especially in infrastructure, Xu added.

Significant progress

Han Han, an assistant researcher with the Institute of Latin American Studies at the CASS, said Honduras and other Central American countries have long been pursuing pluralistic diplomacy. In recent years, Honduras has improved its ties with the European Union and Asian countries by opening its doors amid the integration of Central American countries. As economic and trade ties between China and Honduras have grown increasingly closer, the Honduran aspiration for enhancing relations with China has been growing in recent years.

When Castro ran for president in September 2021, she said if she were to win the elections, she would almost immediately embark on diplomatic relations with the PRC. She then won the general election on November 28 that year, and was inaugurated as the first female president of Honduras on January 27, 2022.

According to Xu, one reason for Castro delaying the establishment of diplomatic relations with China after taking office was the pressure coming from the United States. The U.S. had dispatched a large delegation, headed by Vice President Kamala Harris, to Castro's swearing-in ceremony and hosted the first U.S.-Honduras strategic dialogue in Washington, D.C. last year with the aim of consolidating relations between the two countries.

Given the U.S. is the top destination for Honduran immigrants, the Honduran Government has been working on addressing public concerns about U.S.-Honduras relations going bad, Han said.

Moreover, the Honduran Government and parliament feature several pro-Taiwan interest groups which had already voiced their strong opposition to the establishment of diplomatic ties between Honduras and the PRC.

Despite the difficulties, Castro said China's economic growth has resulted in a sound relationship between the two countries. Bilateral trade in 2022 reached $1.59 billion, of which $1.56 billion accounted for Chinese exports and $29.24 million accounted for Chinese imports, according to statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China.

Following the signing ceremony on March 26, several economic analysts stated that as one of the least-developed countries in Latin America, the establishment of diplomatic ties with China can enable Honduras to further promote trade and investment, expand its export market and boost its economy and people's livelihoods.

Over the past two decades, China, the world's second largest economy, has become the second largest trading partner of the LAC region. Total trade volume between China and LAC countries reached $485.7 billion in 2022, up 7 percent year on year. China is also among the top sources of foreign direct investment and finance for the region.

"The Castro administration hopes to promote bilateral trade and, more specifically, the expansion of Honduran exports to China. It also expects China will increase investment in fields including infrastructure which will in turn promote Honduras' economic growth," Xu said.

Promising prospects

According to Han, China-Honduras cooperation has already seen great progress in recent years. The two countries have cooperated on archaeological excavations on sites of the Maya Civilization covering much of Central America for more than a decade. Undertaken by PowerChina, a Chinese hydropower, electricity and infrastructure construction company, the Patuca III hydropower station project was completed in 2021, improving infrastructure and social public services in Honduras. But this is just one model of cooperation on green energy and technology engineering between the countries.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, Honduras received vaccines from China through other LAC countries that have official ties with China. The Honduran people then developed a better understanding of China and were deeply impressed by its humanitarian aid," Han said.

As the press secretariat of the Office of the Honduran Presidency tweeted on March 26, "China can provide more opportunities for Honduras' development through investment, job creation and the development of tourism, infrastructure and education."

China established or resumed diplomatic ties with Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Nicaragua in Central America, in 2007, 2017, 2018 and 2021, respectively. According to Xu, the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and these countries, especially in the economic and trade sectors, has seen notable progress since the establishment of official ties, which gave Honduras an example of the benefits an official relationship might entail.

Xu added China and Honduras see much room for collaboration across a range of fields. Coffee has historically been one of Honduras' main commercial crops—along with bananas. Following the establishment of diplomatic relations, the country's export of agricultural products to China will only increase.

Honduras is highly likely to participate in the BRI, which will create even more promising prospects for the China-Honduras relationship, Xu concluded. 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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