Pence warns Central American leaders on China ties


WASHINGTON: US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday warned Central American nations to be cautious when building relations with China, which has been increasingly active in the region.

Amid mounting tensions between the United States and China, Pence brought up ties with Beijing as he met in Washington with leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as Mexico’s foreign secretary.

“I say to each of those nations represented here, on behalf of our administration, as you build commercial partnerships with other nations including China, we urge you to focus on and demand transparency and look after your and our long-term interests,” he said.

El Salvador in August recognized Beijing in the latest diplomatic setback for Taiwan, the self-ruling democratic island which China considers to be a renegade province.

Central America has remained the key bastion for Taiwan, with Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua still maintaining ties with Taipei rather than Beijing, which has used its economic muscle and promises of investment to entice governments.

The United States recognizes Beijing but is congressionally bound to ensure Taiwan’s defense, with President Donald Trump’s administration especially vocal on defending Taiwan diplomatically.

China has also ramped up trade with Latin America as a whole in the Asian power’s quest for natural resources, in places commercially outpacing the United States which has rejected foreign influence in the region in a policy dating nearly two centuries.

Pence was meeting with the Central American leaders to stem the flow of undocumented migration into the United States, a key issue for Trump, who rose to power characterizing immigrants as criminals and vowing to build a wall on the southern border.

The vice president asked the Central American leaders to send a message to their citizens that, “If they can’t come to the United States legally, they should not come at all.”

“As the old saying goes, there’s no place like home,” Pence said, using the memorable line of Dorothy in the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

Pence acknowledged that greater prosperity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the so-called Northern Triangle — was vital to encouraging undocumented migrants from making the treacherous path north.

“Your people will stay home if they believe there is a brighter future for them there,” he said.

“Today even as countries like China try to expand their influence in the region, the best way to solve these problems, we believe, is to strengthen the bonds between the US and the Northern Triangle and all the nations of our hemisphere, to strengthen the economic ties between our nations.”