Category Archives: Central America

REUTERS – No ties? No problem as China courts Taiwan’s remaining allies

By Lucy Hornby and Luc Cohen

BEIJING/MEXICO CITY | Tue Aug 6, 2013 5:00pm EDT

Aug 7 (Reuters) – Taiwan’s last remaining diplomatic allies are developing increasingly tight economic ties with China, in a trend that could increase Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation if the current detente between Beijing and Taipei fails.

The world’s second-largest economy is gaining soft power with a series of investment commitments in Central America, home to the last significant bloc of countries that still maintain formal ties with Taiwan.

But instead of jumping on the chance to make new allies, China is stalling on Central American requests to establish diplomatic relations. The goal is to avoid galling Taiwanese voters, as Beijing is also courting the administration of the island’s president, Ma Ying-jeou.

That leaves China with a trump card if cross-straits relations turn cooler under future administrations. It could then pull the diplomatic rug out from under Taiwan by engineering a mass defection of its remaining friends, analysts say.

“The economics are hot although the politics are still cold,” said Zhang Zhexin, who studies Taiwan policy at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. He estimates China has rebuffed at least five countries’ requests to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

“If it weren’t for the desire to support Ma, we would have let them switch already. But now we are not as much in a rush as before.”

Costa Rica was the most recent nation to recognise Beijing in 2007, leaving Taiwan with 23 allies ranging in size from Paraguay to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.

A U.S. State Department cable released by Wikileaks indicates that Panama sought to recognise Beijing in 2009, but was rebuffed.

“It doesn’t make any sense anymore economically speaking to be affiliated with Taiwan,” said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America programme at the Interamerican Dialogue.

Beijing became more conciliatory towards Ma’s ruling Nationalist Party under China’s previous president, Hu Jintao, and tried to woo Taiwan’s people with carrots rather than sticks.

China and Taiwan have signed a series of landmark trade and economic deals since the China-friendly Ma was elected in 2008, and the two sides have since observed an unofficial truce in the competition to lure diplomatic recognition with expensive investment deals.

Nonetheless, Beijing – the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – regards separately ruled Taiwan as a renegade province, to be reunited with force if necessary. The two have been governed separately since the Communist Party won the Chinese civil war in 1949, and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan.

“The PRC now wants to be in a position without violating the truce of effectively being able to say … ‘we are essentially in a position where we can take away the last remaining pieces of your diplomatic legitimacy’,” said Evan Ellis, assistant professor at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, D.C.



A number of Central American “dream” projects might have strategic interest for China as it seeks cheaper shipping routes for gas, ore and soybeans from the Caribbean or the Atlantic ports. But the greater allure seems to be for Central American politicians, who envision Chinese funding for their grand plans.

Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, which has ties with Taiwan, has granted a 50-year concession to a Chinese telecoms businessman with no experience in infrastructure projects, to build a canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean that would challenge the Panama Canal’s dominance. The price tag for this project, long desired by Nicaragua, is about $40 billion.

Not to be outdone, the president of Honduras, which also has ties with Taiwan, announced that China Harbour Engineering Corp (CHEC) was conducting a feasibility study for a $20 billion port and rail project, also to cross the isthmus. China Harbour executives said they agreed to do the study, but have not yet received a contract.

Meanwhile, plans for China Railway Group to build a trans-isthmus rail and port project in Colombia, which recognises Beijing, have seen little progress since they were announced by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2010, diplomats say.

And Guatemala is trying to tap Taiwan to finance the revival of its national train system, which has not operated for several years. Taiwan, which has ties with Guatemala, has agreed to develop a blueprint.

Beijing’s single Central American ally, Costa Rica, has asked for help developing a special economic zone in impoverished port regions.

Still, in practice, Chinese firms prefer to take less risky roles as cost-effective contractors on projects that range from American-backed power plants in Guatemala to Panamanian port projects.

“In terms of our business development, we can participate in a project regardless of whether there is diplomatic recognition,” said CHEC vice president Shi Yingtao. His company has worked on Panamanian port projects for Taiwanese shipping firm Evergreen Marine Corp.

While Chinese money might threaten Taiwan’s diplomatic standing, Taiwan’s vibrant business community has not lost out. They continue to operate export-oriented factories in Southeast Asia – despite a lack of diplomatic recognition – and in mainland China, where their investments were a major driving force for the spectacular growth of the past three decades.

In fact, politically driven overseas projects by the Taiwan government have in the past failed to attract significant interest from Taiwan businesses, to Taipei’s embarrassment.

“They spent a lot of money over the years competing for recognition but without much result. There was a very low return on investment,” said Chin-Ming Lin of the Graduate Institute of the Americas at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

(Additional reporting by Mike McDonald in Guatemala City, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Ivan Castro in Managua, Isabella Cota in San Jose and Lomi Kriel in Panama City; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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CHDS Forum on Violence in Central America

CHDS Forum on Violence in Central America

CBC news – War on drugs draws Canadian military focus in Central America

By James Cudmore, CBC News

Posted: Feb 2, 2013 6:00 AM ET

The Harper government’s new focus on the Americas means a dramatic change of effort for the Canadian Forces and an overt participation in the U.S. war on drugs.

The commander of Canada’s operational forces, Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, says Canada is now focusing new efforts on Central America and the Caribbean.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Beare said Canada was active in attempts to sever the Central American drug artery pumping narcotics northwards into the United States and Canada.

“We’re partnered with our U.S. partners in the counter-narcotic effort on the southern flank, in Central and South America, as the flow goes north,” Beare revealed.

For years, Canada has participated in naval operations in the Caribbean Sea designed to thwart narcotics-smuggling efforts. Canada has also provided specialized radar and reconnaissance patrol aircraft to that fight.

But Beare suggests much more is being done in the region now than ever before.

Canadian troops are working and training with troops from Chile, Brazil, even Colombia, Beare said. But the effort is sharpest in Central America.

“We’re staying connected in the hemisphere, in particular, in capacity-building partners in the Caribbean Basin, sustaining a great effort with Jamaica, reaching into Belize and Guatemala, helping them to build their own capacity, to manage their own security forces and security conditions.”

Troops from the Petawawa, Ont.,-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment assisted in the training of a special Jamaican force, called the Counter Terrorism Operations Group.

Those Jamaican troops put their Canadian-taught skills to use in 2009 to free six Canadian crew aboard a CanJet 737 hijacked at Montego Bay. (Negotiators had previously convinced the hijacker to release roughly 150 passengers.)

Jamaica in turn has allowed Canada to construct and staff a forward-deployed operational staging centre, to help Canadian troops leap more quickly into action in the event of natural disasters or security threats in the region.

Increasing military co-operation

In Belize, Canada has engaged for several years trying to build both police and military capability through the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, run by the Foreign Affairs department. So far, more than $2 million has been spent to help improve Belize’s national forensic centre and its defence force.

Training provided to Jamaican security forces by Canadian special forces proved valuable in resolving the hijacking of a Canadian passenger jet in 2009. Training provided to Jamaican security forces by Canadian special forces proved valuable in resolving the hijacking of a Canadian passenger jet in 2009. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

But the military aspect of Canada’s engagement is increasing.

Last June, Canada donated 2,000 surplus military load-carrying vests to the Belize Defence Force. Belize is also a participant in the Canadian-run Military Training Co-operation Program — a program that provides military education and skills training to poor and developing countries.

More significantly, Canada has helped construct a modern military operations centre and lent support to a top-to-bottom Belizean strategic defence review.

And Belize has reciprocated, allowing Canadian soldiers to train in its dense jungles. Going back as far as 2008, teams of Canadian Civil Military Co-operation teams — essentially aid and engineering teams — headed to Belize for several weeks of hands-on assistance training in rural villages before deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Belize and Guatemala are strategic territory in the war on drugs. The two countries span the entire Central American isthmus, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, bordering Mexico. They are literally pressed up against North America and are staging areas for drug runners looking to move their illicit product north.

It’s estimated that about 80 per cent of South American cocaine headed into North America somehow transits Guatemalan territory.

Complicating any response to the instability posed by narco-traffickers in the region is the relatively small size of defence forces in both countries.

The Belize Defence Force, for example, has fewer than 1,500 troops, while the Guatemalan military has 15,000.

Canada has supported the training of Guatemalan troops in peace support operations, but it’s not clear how else the military is involved there.

Despite Beare’s mention of Guatemala as an area of military focus, the Defence Department has not provided any information in response to CBC News questions about Canadian efforts there.

But it’s clear the area matters to the military. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk, visited Guatemala City to meet senior defence officials there in 2011.

Beare says Canada’s contributions to the region are significant, though still small.

“You’re not seeing battalions and fleets and squadrons of aircraft,” he said. “What we’re doing there is persistent engagement, co-operation and collaboration with our partners in the hemisphere, to help raise their capacities, improve our network in the region, so we can respond to contingencies there.”

In January, The Canadian Press reported government documents it obtained showed the situation in Belize was deteriorating because of drug violence.

It also reported Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed that Belize was of increasing importance to Canada, “due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border.”

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