Guatemala leader in Taiwan expresses 'rock-solid friendship'

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Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei, right, accompanied by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen reviews a military honor guard at a ceremony in front of Taiwan President Office in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

TAIPEI – The president of Guatemala appealed to other governments to respect Taiwan's sovereignty during an official visit Tuesday at a time when China's ruling Communist Party is stepping up efforts to isolate the self-ruled island democracy Beijing claims as its own territory.

President Alejandro Giammattei's government is one of a dwindling number that have official relations with Taipei instead of Beijing. Legislators from the United States and Europe have visited to show support in the face of Beijing's attempts to intimidate the island, but their governments have official relations with China, not Taiwan.

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Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war. Taiwan never has been part of the People's Republic of China, but the Communist Party says it is obliged to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

“I would like to appeal to the international community and the free world that we should strive to respect Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mattei said in a speech to Taiwan's legislature. He expressed “rock-solid friendship” with Taiwan.

Mattei said 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.”

President Xi Jinping's government has flown fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan in increasing numbers and fired missiles into the sea in an attempt to intimidate the island.

The number of governments that deal with Taiwan as a national government is shrinking as Beijing and Taipei compete for recognition from small, mostly poor countries in Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific with infusions of aid and investment.

The United States and all European governments except tiny Vatican City have no official relations with Taiwan, a center for high-tech industry and one of the biggest global traders, but maintain extensive commercial and informal ties.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited Guatemala and Belize this month on a tour aimed at shoring up relations with the handful of governments that recognize Taiwan. In Guatemala, Tsai visited a rural hospital built with a donation from Taiwan.

Earlier, Honduras announced it was switching recognition to Beijing following the announcement that a Chinese company would build a $300 million hydroelectric dam project in central Honduras.