Why does Central America still love Taiwan?

A new WikiLeaks cable sheds some light on the surprisingly interesting topic (no, really!) of Panama-China relations:  Panama is one of only a few countries that recognize Taiwan and therefore forgo relations with its neighbor and traditional rival China. The Feb. 23, 2010-dated cable from then U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson came in the ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images
ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images
ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images

A new WikiLeaks cable sheds some light on the surprisingly interesting topic (no, really!) of Panama-China relations: 

Panama is one of only a few countries that recognize Taiwan and therefore forgo relations with its neighbor and traditional rival China.

The Feb. 23, 2010-dated cable from then U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson came in the midst of President Ma Ying-jeou's efforts to improve ties with China. The cable was released May 8.

A new WikiLeaks cable sheds some light on the surprisingly interesting topic (no, really!) of Panama-China relations: 

Panama is one of only a few countries that recognize Taiwan and therefore forgo relations with its neighbor and traditional rival China.

The Feb. 23, 2010-dated cable from then U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara Stephenson came in the midst of President Ma Ying-jeou’s efforts to improve ties with China. The cable was released May 8.

Stephenson wrote in the cable that Martinelli had told her in May 2009, the month he won national elections by a landslide, that he would recognize Beijing because "he thought that Panama’s business community would benefit as a result."

Stephenson said Martinelli’s high hopes were dashed when his Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela was told by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during an Asia visit in January 2010 that Beijing would not take on Panama to avoid foiling warming cross-strait ties.

The U.S. transferred its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and the People’s Republic has occupied the "China" seat at the United Nations since 1971. But there are a number of countries who maintain formal relations with Taiwan. According to Wikpedia, they are:

Belize

Burkina Faso,

Dominican Republic

El Salvador

Gambia

Guatemala

Haiti

Honduras

Kiribati

Marshall Islands

Nauru

Nicaragua

Palau

Panama

Paraguay

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Lucia

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

São Tomé and Príncipe

Solomon Islands

Swaziland

Tuvalu

Vatican City

Pacific islands like Nauru clearly like being wooed by a Taiwanese government desperate for increased international legitimacy in any form it might take and the Vatican’s anti-Beijing position makes sense.

But what’s with Central America?

According to this article, "Between 2000 and 2004, the volume of trade between Taiwan and the Central American and Caribbean region amounted to 3.3 billion dollars." That doesn’t seem like quite enough to keep the world’s second largest economy from winning these countries over if it wanted to. It seems like there’s a combination of inertia and indifference from Beijing at work here. Haiti’s non-recognition of Beijing didn’t stop China from sending post-earthquake aid, for instance. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Taiwan

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.

What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.

Diplomacy is neither intrinsically moral nor always strategically wise.

Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.
Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Ukraine Has a Secret Resistance Operating Behind Russian Lines

Modern-day Ukrainian partisans are quietly working to undermine the occupation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.

The Franco-German Motor Is on Fire

The war in Ukraine has turned Europe’s most powerful countries against each other like hardly ever before.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

How the U.S.-Chinese Technology War Is Changing the World

Washington’s crackdown on technology access is creating a new kind of global conflict.