TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan has established a trade office in the South American country of Guyana, a diplomatic win for the island that has continued to lose allies in an aggressive poaching campaign from China in recent years.
The facility will focus on cooperation in areas like agriculture, education and trade, Taiwan’s Foreign ministry said in an announcement on Thursday. It does not represent the establishment of formal diplomatic ties.
Taiwan has been the subject of a massive pressure campaign from China that claims the island as part of its territory — to be conquered by military force if necessary — and says it has no right to official exchanges with any foreign governments or multinational organizations such as the United Nations.
Taiwan has just 15 formal diplomatic allies left, after two countries chose to switch diplomatic relations to China in 2019 from Taiwan.
Taiwan also has a network of trade offices around the world that act as de-facto embassies, including in the United States, Japan and most other major nations.
Also last year, Taiwan exchanged representative offices with the breakaway Somali territory of Somaliland to focus on trade and security in the Horn of Africa. China responded by accusing Taiwan of “undermining Somali sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
There was no immediate response from Beijing to the Guyana announcement. China has frequently sought to scupper such arrangements in the past and has been using its its massive economic resources to win over Taiwan’s remaining allies.
China has refused all direct contacts with Taiwan’s government since the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Tsai was reelected last year to a second four-year term.
Despite that, Taiwan enjoys strengthening U.S. support as an unofficial ally. Bipartisan support for the island has grown in recent years under the former Trump administration, including a visit from the highest-level U.S. government delegation since the U.S. switched relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
The U.S. applauded Thursday’s move, with both the embassy in Guyana and the de-facto U.S. mission in Taiwan issuing statements of support.
“Deeping ties between Guyana and Taiwan will advance their shared goals of prosperity and security,” said the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Guyana.
“The United States remains committed to supporting Taiwan as it expands its international partnerships and works to address global challenges, including COVID-19,” the American Institute in Taiwan said in its statement.