TAIPEI (Reuters) – Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamatti on Tuesday pledged unconditional support to the “Republic of Taiwan” on a trip that comes as China ramps up pressure on a handful of countries that still maintain official relations with the island.
Guatemala is one of only 13 countries to have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which is claimed by China. Honduras ceded Taipei to Beijing last month after it requested nearly $2.5 billion in aid.
Speaking at a welcoming ceremony outside the presidential office in Taiwan, Giamatti said Guatemala and Taiwan are “brother countries” and important allies.
Speaking in Spanish, he twice referred to the “Republic of Taiwan”, rather than its official name, the Republic of China, generally stylized these days by the government as the Republic of China, Taiwan.
“I want everyone to have confidence that Guatemala will remain a strong diplomatic ally of the Republic of Taiwan and continue to deepen cooperation in all fields,” he said, pledging “absolute support.”
Giamatti, standing next to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, concluded his speech with “Long live a free Taiwan,” and received a broad smile from Tsai, who thanked him in English.
Speaking later in the Taiwan parliament, Giamatti continued to refer to the “Republic of Taiwan,” and won a standing ovation from lawmakers with another strong message of support, ending that speech with “Long live Taiwan: free, sovereign and independent.”
Guatemala’s relations with the Republic of China go back nine decades, before the government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists who established the People’s Republic of China.
Any suggestion that Taiwan is an independent country separate from China infuriates Beijing, which has never shied away from using force to bring the island under its control.
China, which regards Taiwan as its own territory with no right to the trappings of a state, renewed its condemnation of Giamatti’s flight.
“We advise the Giamatti government not to take sides with the immoral,” said foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning in Beijing.
Giamatti is making a return visit to Taiwan after Cai visited Guatemala less than a month ago.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard). Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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