Honduras and Vaccine Diplomacy: Are Increased Relations with China Likely?

Honduras and  Vaccine Diplomacy:  Are Increased Relations with China Likely?

Honduras, one of the few countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, is making attempts to build diplomatic bridges with China in order to acquire the much needed Covid-19 vaccines. So far, only 1% of the Honduran population has been vaccinated. This situation constitutes another chapter in the so-called ‘vaccine diplomacy’, where geopolitics comes into play in vaccine acquisition.

Honduras’ situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic is worrisome. By May 19th, Honduras experienced 6,091 deaths and had accumulated 228,287 cases. The country’s sanitary system is functioning at 75% capacity overall. The country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, is the most affected of all, where hospitals operate at 110% capacity. In the rest of the country, hospitals are about to collapse and many patients are waiting for ICU beds. On top of that, vaccine supply is extremely short, 342,000 out of 9,5 million have been vaccinated so far. 

Due to the shortage of vaccines, the Honduran government has decided to initiate talks with China, one of the countries that are supplying vaccines to many Latin American countries. Congress has already approved the motion to initiate talks with Beijing, and the President said that his government is willing to open a Chamber of Commerce in said country. 

Building relations with Beijing is said to be a challenge since Honduras is one out of six Latin American countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Honduras’ government claimed that they do not wish to cut ties with the Asian country but that the sanitary situation calls for urgent measures.  

China has aided many of its allies in Latin America, delivering medical and protective gear and offering loans to governments that struggle to pay for vaccines. Paraguay, one of Taiwan’s allies, has also received help from China. As the South American country struggled to progress in the vaccination scheme, China promised thousands of vaccines if diplomatic ties with Taiwan were cut. Taiwan has been quite proactive in the situation, helping Paraguay to secure 2 million doses of India’s Covaxin. This strongly suggests strategic action on Taiwan’s part – making a point to assist its allies in their time of need – serving as a reminder of the benefits of the two countries’ relationship. 

China and Taiwan: A comparison of Ally Vaccination 

80 Years of Diplomatic Relations

Taiwan and Honduras are celebrating 80 years of diplomatic relations, in which the Asian country has assisted Honduras several times when natural disasters have occurred. Both countries have engaged in trade relations with each other – Honduras exporting mainly coffee, meat, and white shrimp to Taiwan. Taipei has commented on Honduras’ possible shift towards Beijing, stating that vaccines are a humanitarian issue which should not be used in a political way. Taipei has accused Beijing of using the need for vaccines as a political move to gain more influence and to steal away Taiwan’s allies. That said, Taipei has vowed to aid Honduras in its battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other parts of the world have raised concerns about the use of medical aid as a political maneuver to gain influence, as well. In fact, the United States has condemned the ‘cynical use’ of vaccines and other medical assistance equipment for political gain. The US State Department, wary of an increased Chinese presence on the continent, stated that the US will stand with Honduras in the fight against Covid-19. 

China has responded to Taiwan and the United States’ claims, accusing the American government of hypocrisy and hoarding vaccines that could be used for assisting other countries. Beijing also denied using vaccine acquisition to gain political power in the region. 

Are Increased Relations with China Likely?

In short, not at the moment. Honduras’ government interest in China seems to be purely based on the need for vaccines for its citizens. It is not clear if there are any real intentions of opening a commercial office in China. It could arguably have been a threat intended to capture the attention of Washington and Taipei. Regardless of the intention, Honduras is getting what it needed. On May 18th, the government signed a contract for 4,4 million vaccines from the United States. Moreover, Joe Biden has announced that the US is going to be the largest donor of vaccines – planning to donate 80 million doses to countries in need – Latin America being one of the priorities. 

The production and distribution of vaccines are shaping an increasingly asymmetrical scenario. That is, a small number of countries act as vaccine suppliers while the rest are vulnerable to political and diplomatic coercion. 

Although a shift towards Beijing is unlikely, El Salvador promised to help China and Honduras build diplomatic ties. El Salvador used to be Taiwan’s ally, but switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 2018. The influence of the chinese political ally could potentially contribute to the erosion of  relations between Honduras and Taiwan and help China gain more leverage in the Latin America. In fact, El Salvador has donated 34,000 doses of Covid-19 to Honduras so far. A careful eye should be kept on this situation as Honduras constitutes another chapter of the so-called ‘vaccine diplomacy’ in which powerful countries use the supply of vaccines to gain allies and political influence. 

Categories: Latin America, Politics

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