We sympathize: he often baffles us, as well.
The Foreign Minister of the Taiwanese government is quoted as saying
The bilateral relationship with Honduras remains “normal” and “solid” and “will not be affected” even if the country moves to develop economic and trade relations with China.
What sparked the comment? A statement published last week on the website of the Honduran Presidential Office. The website Centralamericandata.com published this translation:
President Lobo Sosa confirms intention to open diplomatic relations with China
President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, confirmed on Wednesday that there are clear intentions to open diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, a situation that should not affect relations with Taiwan.
The Honduran president said that in the XXI century, we can not continue to think that expanding relations with one nation means being an enemy to another.
The leader believes that China is a super attractive market because it has established itself as a world power in the economic and commercial sphere.
In this regard, he said that Beijing already has investments in Honduras through the Patuca III hydropower project, capital that could be extended to other projects.
That last sentence is all you really need to know. Honduras needs capital investors. China has capital.
The recent announcement really shouldn't come as a surprise. In September, the Honduran government hosted a visit by the China Development Bank. At the time they received presentations from government ministers about potential projects to invest in Model Cities (now declared illegal), tourism, mining, and energy.
Taiwan has been a major investment partner of Honduras. They were among the few governments represented at Lobo Sosa's inauguration. They contributed Lobo Sosa fulfilling one of his campaign promises. The Taiwan government has publicly stated that it has no objection to the development of trade relations between Honduras and China.
But they thought they had assurances that was all Honduras was contemplating. The Lobo Sosa statement, however, calls for establishing diplomatic ties, and that would mean recognizing the government of mainland China, which is more of a sticking point. As the Taipei Times article puts it
Lin said that Taipei does not consider it acceptable for it’s diplomatic allies to recognize China while maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
“We don’t think double recognition is acceptable and we don’t think that will happen,” Lin said.
The principle guiding President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “flexible diplomacy” has been that Taiwan and China do not attempt to poach each other’s diplomatic allies, Lin said.
According to the timeline offered by the Taipei Times, last week, after hearing that Honduras was thinking of establishing trade ties with China, Taiwan's Foreign Minister "said that while the ministry was not happy to see an ally establish a trade office in China, it did not oppose allies developing economic ties with Beijing".
Two days after that, the website of the Honduran Presidency posted the statement that starts with a call to establish diplomatic relations.
The next day, the ambassador from Taiwan to Honduras, Joseph Kuo, met with Honduras' foreign minister, Arturo Corrales, who said that
the country had yet to finalize a plan to set up a trade office in China and that its ties to Taiwan remain solid and will not be affected by Tegucigalpa forging an economic and trade relationship with Beijing....However, the ministry was unable to explain the discrepancy between Lobo’s statement and the information Kuo received from Corrales and the Honduran presidential office.
All very diplomatic. The article says Kuo expects to meet with Lobo Sosa himself soon to resolve the discrepancies.
But it isn't really just the statement posted on Lobo Sosa's website that is at issue: it is what he said to the press about the topic. On December 20, La Tribuna quoted his responses to reporters at a press conference:
“We are free, we can have have relations with any country in the world”
“it is the right that we Hondurans have to have relations with all the countries of the world, it is a sovereign right, who's going to place conditions on us saying with this one yes, with that one no”.
“I appreciate very much the fondness that Taiwan has for Honduras, but the fact that we are friends, that they give us affection doesn't mean that we cannot take a step for Honduras, to have relations with a country that is the second most developed country in the world today."
"China is the second economy in the world, it is a super attractive market, they have many resources for investment, in fact they have invested here in the Patuca III dam."
“To be a friend with one and for that reason to be an enemy of another, that makes no sense."
Not quite so diplomatic. Lobo Sosa's comments sound like a man in a long-term marriage trying to rationalize starting to date before getting divorced. The use of the term "cariño" and the "super atractivo" characterization of China is simply not the tone a diplomat would want his president to use.
Pity poor Arturo Corrales, stuck with making up to Taiwan for these public statements. Lobo Sosa seems simply not to have exercised any critical judgment before speaking; his "who's going to place conditions on us" and "that makes no sense" statements can be read-- and probably are being read-- as broader criticism of the policy position of the Taiwan government.
Of course, nothing in these statements to the press actually concerns diplomatic relations, specifically. It is only in the official statement on the presidential web site that this term is introduced. Every intemperate statement to the press could have been taken as about setting up trade relations. It is as if the presidential office doesn't know the difference, and added fuel to a fire that could easily have been kept low.
But that would imply that Lobo Sosa doesn't understand what he is doing. And surely that cannot be true. Can it? No wonder the Taiwan government finds him "baffling".