Paraguay leader praises Taiwan as ‘lighthouse of democracy’

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The outgoing president of Paraguay, whose country is one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies, spoke of his admiration for the island democracy while on a state visit to Taipei on Thursday.

Mario Abdo Benitez was welcomed with an honor guard as he walked alongside Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on a red carpet in front of the Presidential House. Abdo arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday on a five-day visit.

Taiwan is closely watching as Paraguay is set to hold presidential elections in which the opposition party candidate has said he would break diplomatic ties with Taiwan if elected, according to local media reports.

Since Tsai was elected in 2016, China has been on a pressure campaign to poach the island’s remaining diplomatic allies. China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and opposes any form of exchange between Taiwan and the governments of other countries. Taiwan currently has 14 diplomatic allies.

“I want to express my deepest and most sincere respect to the Taiwanese people for not giving up their brave struggle for freedom and the safeguarding of their sovereignty,” Abdo said. “In the face of continued threats and the tense situation, Taiwan’s people have not given up their resolution for peace, continuing to play the role of a lighthouse of democracy in the region.”

Abdo also thanked Taiwan for its help during the COVID-19 pandemic and said his country’s economy suffered the least of Latin American countries during the pandemic as a result of that assistance.

Tsai did not speak about the possible loss of Paraguay as a diplomatic ally, instead thanking Abdo for his visit and speaking of deepening economic cooperation between the two sides.

“I want to thank President Abdo for speaking in support of Taiwan’s participation in international forums many times,” said Tsai in a speech ahead of a private meeting with the Paraguayan president.

In December 2021, Taiwan lost Nicaragua as a diplomatic ally after the Central American country’s president won re-election in a vote the White House said was rigged. Nicaragua then said it would officially recognize only China.

In 2022, Honduras, another Taiwan ally, also made Taiwan and China part of its presidential campaign. As a candidate, Xiomara Castro said she would switch diplomatic recognition to China if elected. But after Castro assumed power, her administration said the government would continue to maintain ties with Taiwan for now.

Though Taiwan has lost allies, it has also stepped up official exchanges with countries such as Lithuania and Slovakia, which do not formally recognize Taiwan as a country.

As part of his visit, Abdo met with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and attended a conference on women’s empowerment with Tsai.

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