Paraguay president to visit Taiwan ahead of election that could end ties
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Paraguay's president, Mario Abdo, will visit Taiwan next week as the island seeks to shore up ties with one of its oldest allies ahead of an election in April that could see the Latin American country ditch Taipei in favour of Beijing.
Paraguay is one of only 14 countries to have formal diplomatic relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, and Beijing has been stepping up efforts to get those remaining allies to abandon Taipei.
Paraguay would cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and open relations with China if the opposition wins the election, its presidential candidate Efrain Alegre has said, hoping to boost economically important soy and beef exports.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Abdo, accompanied by his foreign and commerce ministers, would visit Taiwan from Feb. 14-18, meet President Tsai Ing-wen and attend a briefing on meat promotion and investment opportunities.
"Taiwan and Paraguay have had diplomatic relations for more than 65 years and a deep friendship," the ministry added.
Abdo is not standing again for the presidency. Santiago Pena, the ruling Colorado Party candidate, has said Paraguay's relations with Taiwan would remain intact if he wins on April 30.
Paraguay's Taiwan ties have been under pressure in recent years, especially from the country's beef producers and farmers, who see the relationship as an obstacle to gaining access to the world's largest market for their products.
China views Taiwan as one of its provinces, with no right to state-to-state ties, a position Taipei hotly disputes.
Latin and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, have traditionally been diplomatic strongholds for Taiwan, but China has chipped away at those countries, with Nicaragua being the most recent country to go over to Beijing, in late 2021.
The issue has taken on broader geopolitical significance amid U.S. concerns about China expanding its influence in the region.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)