The outgoing President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benitez, whose country is one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, spoke of his admiration for the island democracy while on a state visit to Taipei on Thursday, February 16, 2023.
Mario Abdo Benitez was welcomed with an honor guard as he walked alongside Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on a red carpet in front of the Presidential House. Abdo arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 for a five-day visit.
Taiwan is closely watching as Paraguay is set to hold presidential elections in which the opposition party candidate has said he would break diplomatic ties with Taiwan if elected, according to local media reports.
Since Tsai was elected in 2016, China has been on a pressure campaign to poach the island’s remaining diplomatic allies. China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and opposes any form of exchange between Taiwan and the governments of other countries. Taiwan currently has 14 diplomatic allies.
“I want to express my deepest and most sincere respect to the Taiwanese people for not giving up their brave struggle for freedom and the safeguarding of their sovereignty. In the face of continued threats and the tense situation, Taiwan’s people have not given up their resolution for peace, continuing to play the role of a lighthouse of democracy in the region.”Mario Abdo Benitez, outgoing President of Paraguay
Abdo also thanked Taiwan for its help during the COVID-19 pandemic and said his country’s economy suffered the least of Latin American countries during the pandemic as a result of that assistance.
Tsai did not speak about the possible loss of Paraguay as a diplomatic ally, instead, she thanked Abdo for his visit and spoke of deepening economic cooperation between the two sides.
“I want to thank President Abdo for speaking in support of Taiwan’s participation in international forums many times,” said Tsai in a speech ahead of a private meeting with the Paraguayan President.
In December 2021, Taiwan lost Nicaragua as a diplomatic ally after the Central American country’s President won re-election in a vote the White House said was rigged. Nicaragua then said it would officially recognize only China.
In 2022, Honduras, another Taiwan ally, also made Taiwan and China part of its presidential campaign. As a candidate, Xiomara Castro said she would switch diplomatic recognition to China if elected. However, after Castro assumed power, her administration said the government would continue to maintain ties with Taiwan for now.
Taiwan Steps Up Official Exchanges
Though Taiwan has lost allies, it has also stepped up official exchanges with countries such as Lithuania and Slovakia, which do not formally recognize Taiwan as a country.
As part of his visit, Abdo met with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu and attended a conference on women’s empowerment with Tsai.
Meanwhile, amid speculation over alleged Chinese spy balloons, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has disclosed it would shoot down any suspected military object coming close to its shores from mainland China.
Maj. Gen. Huang Wen-chi, the assistant Deputy Chief of general staff for intelligence, told reporters that the self-governing island was on guard for any incursions, but had yet to find any that had penetrated its defenses.
Balloons found so far around Taiwan were used for meteorological exploration, he said. They were relatively small and light and would burst after rising to an altitude that could be threatening. Taiwan is yet to find targets requiring a lethal response, he said.
“We haven’t seen such sophisticated spy balloons sent by the Chinese Communist Party in the waters near Taiwan,” Huang said, referring to the balloon shot down by the U.S. earlier this month after traveling for days from above Alaska to South Carolina.