Honduras established diplomatic ties with China on Sunday after breaking off relations with Taiwan, which is increasingly isolated and now recognized by only 13 sovereign states.
Foreign ministers from China and Honduras signed a joint communique in Beijing — a decision the Chinese Foreign Ministry hailed as "the right choice."
The diplomatic victory for China comes as tensions rise between Beijing and the United States, including over China's increasing assertiveness toward self-ruled Taiwan, and signals growing Chinese influence in Latin America. The new China-Honduras relationship was announced after the Honduran and Taiwanese governments made separate announcements that they were severing ties.
China and Taiwan have been locked in a battle for diplomatic recognition since they split amid civil war in 1949, with Beijing spending billions to win recognition for its "one China" policy.
China claims Taiwan is part of its territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and refuses most contacts with countries that maintain formal ties with the island democracy. It threatens retaliation against countries merely for increasing contacts.
The Honduran Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Twitter that its government recognizes "only one China in the world" and that Beijing "is the only legitimate government that represents all of China."
It added that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and as of today, the Honduran government has informed Taiwan of the severance of diplomatic relations, pledging not to have any official relationship or contact with Taiwan."
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told a news conference Sunday that Taiwan had ended its relations with Honduras to "safeguard its sovereignty and dignity."
Wu said that Honduran President Xiomara Castro and her team always had a "fantasy" about China and had raised the issue of switching ties before the presidential election in Honduras in 2021. Relations between Taiwan and Honduras were once stable, he said, but China had not stopped luring Honduras.
Honduras had asked Taiwan for billions of dollars of aid and compared its proposals with China's, Wu said. About two weeks ago, the Honduran government sought $2.45 billion from Taiwan to build a hospital and a dam, and to write off debts, he added.
"The Castro government dismissed our nation's longstanding assistance and relations and carried out talks to form diplomatic ties with China. Our government feels pained and regretful," he said.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said her government would not "engage in a meaningless contest of dollar diplomacy with China."
"Over these past few years, China has persistently used various means to suppress Taiwan's international participation, escalate military intrusion, and disrupt peace and stability in the region," she said in a recorded video.
Her office spokesperson Olivia Lin said in a statement that relations between the sides had lasted for more than 80 years.
Analysts have warned over the implications of the newly formed ties between China and Honduras. Political analyst Graco Pérez in Honduras said Beijing's narrative would highlight the benefits, including investment and job creation, "but that is all going to be illusory."
Pérez noted that some other countries have established such relations, but "it didn't turn out to be what had been offered."
For decades China has funneled billions of dollars into investment and infrastructure projects across Latin America. That investment has translated to rising power for China and a growing number of allies.
In Honduras, it has come in the form of construction of a hydroelectric dam project in central Honduras built by the Chinese company SINOHYDRO with about $300 million in Chinese government financing.
Honduras is the ninth diplomatic ally that Taipei has lost to Beijing since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen first took office in May 2016.
Taiwan still has ties with Belize, Paraguay and Guatemala in Latin America, and Vatican City. Most of its remaining partners are island nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific, along with Eswatini in southern Africa.
Some of these diplomatic recognitions were earned through Taiwan's financial and technical aid in the 1980s and '90s following its exceptional economic growth, Lorenzo Maggiorelli, a professor at the political science and international relations department of Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá, Colombia, wrote in his research.
In 1998, Taiwan set up a $240 million aid fund to its Central American allies in a hope of retaining their support. Taiwanese businesses were also encouraged to invest in Central America to consolidate its political ties, Maggiorelli wrote.
Tsai is set to begin a 10-day trip on Wednesday with visits to Guatemala and Belize. Her delegation will also stop in New York and Los Angeles, Lin said last week. Taiwan's Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui earlier said the purpose of Tsai's trip is to highlight the island's friendship with the two Latin American countries.
Wu said he did not have any evidence that the timing of the announcement was related to Tsai's trip but noted "China seems to be doing this intentionally."
Despite China's campaign of isolation, Taiwan retains robust informal ties with more than 100 other countries, most importantly the United States. The U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with Taiwan but has maintained that Taipei is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific.