Paraguay President-Elect Visiting Taiwan to Deepen Ties

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Paraguayan President-elect Santiago Pena said Sunday that he will visit Taiwan this week to deepen bilateral relations with the self-ruling island as part of his administration’s “intense international agenda.”

Mr. Pena, who is set to take office later in August following the victory of the ruling Colorado Party in the April elections, will begin his five-day visit to Taiwan on Tuesday after concluding his trip to Abu Dhabi.

He is expected to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whom he described as a “great friend,” and several senior Taiwanese diplomats during his visit, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry.

“We are going to develop an intense international agenda in the coming days carrying the message that Paraguay and its people are up for great things,” Mr. Pena stated on Twitter.

His visit will coincide with the 66th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Paraguay, adding further significance to the efforts to deepen their long-standing friendship, the ministry stated.

Mr. Pena had pledged to “strengthen the historic ties” with Taiwan after winning the election in April, saying that he would “look forward to working on mutually beneficial cooperation projects.”

Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Yui personally congratulated him on behalf of the Taiwanese leader during his visit to Paraguay in May and discussed “great projects” with the Paraguayan leadership.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory despite Taiwan being a sovereign nation with a democratically elected government. China has in recent years persuaded some of Taiwan’s allies to switch allegiance, with the prospect of increased trade and investment.

Paraguay became the only country in South America to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country after Honduras severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China ties in March, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries with diplomatic ties.

At the Qatar Economic Forum in May, outgoing President Mario Abdo Benitez said that Paraguay’s alliance with Taiwan has resulted in a lack of access to the Chinese market as China refused to do business with Paraguay.

“It is not that Paraguay does not want to do business with anybody. It is the other part that does not want to do business unless we change our diplomatic status,” Mr. Benitez said.

He emphasized that Paraguay remains open to trade with China but will not bow to Chinese pressure to cut off Taiwan.

Paraguay’s President-elect Mario Abdo Benitez (R) greets Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen at his house in Asuncion, on Aug. 14, 2018. (Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images)

“We are not against doing business with anybody. But we believe that our diplomatic relations should stay firmly with Taiwan,” he said.

Trade between Paraguay and Taiwan has increased by 500 percent under his five-year administration. Mr. Benitez said that his ruling party will have “enough arguments” to defend its strategic alliance with Taiwan if this trend continues.

Mr. Pena had pledged during the election campaign to maintain his country’s friendship with Taiwan despite pressure from the local agricultural sector, which wants to open up lucrative Chinese markets.

According to a 2021 study published in Foreign Policy Analysis, Taiwan invested an average of $4 million a year in Paraguay from 2005 to 2014 and contributed an average of $14.8 million in aid.

The study was authored by Tom Long, an associate professor at the University of Warwick, and Francisco Urdinez, an associate professor at the Institute of Political Science.

“Paraguay received nil from China in aid, investment, or finance, while regional annual average values for countries with diplomatic relations with China represented 1 percent of their GDP, a striking difference,” it stated.

“Economic benefits from Taiwan do not compensate for these losses. Taiwan is a small trading partner for Paraguay, in absolute terms and relative to China. In 2018, trade with Taiwan represented 0.33 percent of Paraguay’s total trade,” the study says.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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