Guatemalan president underscores ties to U.S.-backed Taiwan in Washington visit

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Guatemala's Giammattei addresses the UN in New York

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's president on Monday called his country a U.S. ally that backs Taiwan over China, emphasizing his government's alignment with U.S. policy at a time of uncertainty over how the incoming Honduran government will handle China relations.

In a speech in Washington, President Alejandro Giammattei also appeared to take a jab at recent U.S. criticisms of his government around corruption and transparency.

"We consider ourselves an ally and friend (of the United States), although some officials in this government don't understand this in its true dimension," Giammattei said in comments at the Heritage Foundation, an association of think tanks.

"I'll mention a couple of things that prove it: First, diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not China. We're the last ones left in the region."

Many countries in Central America and the Caribbean have ditched Taiwan for China in recent years, including El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic, going against U.S. policy of backing Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.

Aides for the incoming president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, have said she will not establish ties with China, backtracking from Castro's earlier comments that she was open to starting formal relations with China.

Giammattei also said Guatemala is a "stable democracy" that guarantees human rights.

U.S. State Department official Uzra Zeya last week expressed concern over reporters, corruption fighters and activists in Guatemala who have recently come under fire from the government.

In the most high-profile recent case, Guatemala's attorney general in July removed internationally known graft prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval from his post as head of the anti-corruption unit.

Officials subsequently sought to charge Sandoval with fraud, conspiracy and abuse of authority.

In response to Zeya's comments, the Guatemalan attorney general's office said it always acted objectively and in accordance with the law, while the Guatemalan presidency said it respects freedom of speech and journalism.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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