United States recalls top diplomats from Central America over Taiwan

On 7 September, the US Department of State announced that the Ambassadors to the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, and the chargé d’affaires in Panama have been recalled “for consultations related to recent decisions to no longer recognise Taiwan”. El Salvador follows the Dominican Republic and Panama as the third country in the region to shift its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) within the past two years; a hallmark of Beijing’s steadily growing influence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. While details of the negotiations between Beijing and San Salvador have not been made public, President Sánchez Cerén stated that recognition of the PRC will bring about important development and investment opportunities for El Salvador. Among the proposed benefits will be market access for fruits, coffee, sugar and molasses, and a possible concession in the special economic zone of Puerto La Union to a Chinese investor and operator. While the United States’ response to the Dominican Republic and Panama was muted, its reaction to El Salvador’s decision comes in the context of recent souring of relations between Beijing and Washington, as both countries levy increasing tariffs on one another’s goods. In a statement, The White House cautioned that “the El Salvadoran government’s receptiveness to China’s apparent interference in the domestic politics of a Western Hemisphere country is of grave concern to the United States and will result in a re-evaluation of our relationship with El Salvador”. This week, the US decided to postpone a meeting between representatives of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala under the auspices of the Alliance for Prosperity, leading to speculation El Salvador’s recognition of the PRC may lead to it being expelled from the Alliance, and the associated development assistance programmes.