Washington recalls its diplomats from three Latin American, Caribbean countries after they switch support from Taiwan to China

The State Department has recalled its top diplomats from Panama, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador for talks after they all switched their support from Taiwan to China.

“Panama switched recognition to Beijing last year, the Dominican Republic did so in May, and El Salvador followed suit last month, triggering strong warnings from Washington,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Robin Bernstein, the US ambassador to the Dominican Republic; Jean Manes, its ambassador to El Salvador; and Roxanne Cabral, the US chargé d’affaires in Panama, have all been recalled “for consultations related to recent decisions to no longer recognize” the democratic- and self-ruled island.

China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, has been stepping up its efforts to woo its remaining allies into Bejing’s sphere of influence. China has done that primarily by promising to invest $250 billion in the regions in the coming years.

Those countries and others throughout Central and South America have also been encouraged by Beijing to invest in its “Road and Belt Initiative,” launched by President Xi Jinping as a means of bolstering trade and infrastructure ties with nations all over the world.

Of the diplomatic recalls, Francisco Luis Perez, a Latin-American Studies expert at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said, “The action is unprecedented and shows the beginning of a new strategy. It is hard to foresee the next steps, but I guess they will be a combination of economic and trade incentives and punishments.”

Meanwhile, Chen I-Hsin, a professor of political science at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, added, “Recalling the ambassadors is also a warning to other nations in the region that they have to take care of US interests if they want American aid and investment.”

“Recalling an ambassador is just the first step. The U.S. has to take follow-up action if it wants to retain its influence in the region and prevent Taiwan from losing its allies,” Chen noted further.

Analysis: As the Trump administration continues to express greater support for Taiwan, China is exerting more effort in peeling away as many of Taiwan’s remaining 17 allies as it can, as a way to further isolate the island. Moving into regions so close, geographically and politically, to Washington is akin to the Soviet Union moving into traditional U.S. zones of influence in the Caribbean (Cuba) and Latin America during the Cold War.

Countries in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, have the same dilemma as Asian countries in China’s backyard that are currently allied with Washington: They have to determine if the rewards of aligning with the rival great power are worth the risks of losing patronage from the current benefactor. Also, they should examine Belt and Road relationships China has begun with other countries that have since found themselves heavily indebted to the Chinese, an initiative Beijing appears to be using to acquire strategic assets like ports more than develop emerging economies.

What countries who are switching allegiances to China do not have to fear, necessarily, is losing U.S. security protections. If China were to pose a serious military threat from any part of the Caribbean, Central or South America, the U.S. would act to protect its regional interests and its own security. 

So then, it really comes down to who can offer these countries the best deal, economically speaking. While the U.S. dollar speaks loudly enough, there is another advantage Washington retains over China: The alteration of immigration policies that would either favor these countries or isolate them further. And since many of them are used to exporting their poverty to the United States, that could be a difference-maker.



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