Guatemala’s president Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday pledged unconditional support for the “Republic of Taiwan” during his visit to the island despite strong warnings from China.
Guatemala is one of only 13 countries with official diplomatic ties with the self-governed island after Honduras abandoned Taipei for Beijing last month.
Speaking at a welcome ceremony, Mr. Giammattei referred to the island as the “Republic of Taiwan” twice, adding that Guatemala City and Taipei were “brotherly countries” and important allies.
“I want everyone to trust that Guatemala will continue to be a solid diplomatic ally to the Republic of Taiwan and will continue to deepen cooperation in all areas,” he said, pledging “absolute support”.
Mr. Giammattei ended his speech with a rousing “long live free Taiwan” that evoked a broad smile from his Taiwanese counterpart Tsai Ing-wen.
Prior to his visit, China had warned the Central American nation against flouting what it called the global “overriding trend” of following the “One-China” policy.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since it split from the mainland in 1949 following a civil war. However, Beijing claims Taipei is obliged to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary, and frowns upon the island’s diplomatic ties with other foreign nations.
Mr. Giammattei won a standing ovation from lawmakers with a further strong message of support, ending that speech with: “Long live Taiwan: free, sovereign and independent.”
The Guatemalan president appealed to the international community and the “free world” to “respect Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
He added that his visit was a “demonstration of our firm support for your country and our commitment to defending our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our firm opposition to foreign aggression.”
Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded saying “we advise the Giammattei government not to take the side of the evildoer”.
Mr. Giammattei’s visit follows president Tsai’s tour of Guatemala and Belize aimed at shoring up relations with allies.
Ms. Tsai’s meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the US prompted a livid China to launch three days of war games in the waters around Taiwan.
The “combat readiness patrol” opened an opportunity for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to practice sealing off the island by blocking sea and air traffic.
China had responded with similar combat exercises following the visit of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei last year. (Reuters)