Paraguay Bucks a Latin American Trend, Pledging Fresh Support for Taipei as Its Neighbors Cozy Up to Communist China

While Western support for Taipei is dwindling, Santiago Peña vows to champion ‘democracy, free speech, free rights.’

AP/Jorge Saenz
Paraguay's president, Santiago Pena, during his inauguration at Asuncion, August 15, 2023. AP/Jorge Saenz

The last Latin American leader to hold out against Communist China’s growing influence over the Western hemisphere is pushing for stronger bilateral ties with Free China to bolster the economy at home and defend democracy abroad.

The president of Paraguay, Santiago Peña, is clinging to the nation’s long-standing recognition of Taipei’s sovereignty even as neighboring nations have taken the side of Communist China, which has invested billions of dollars in the region in recent years.

“We are not looking only to see what is the balance of payment, what do I sell you, what do I produce for you,” Mr. Peña proclaimed at an annual nonpartisan gathering of global leaders, the Concordia Summit, at New York City on Monday. “We are looking for long-term relations.”

Paraguay’s newly inaugurated president plans to shepherd the country’s economic production away from agriculture and toward industrials, so siding with Taiwan might be “the harder way, but the right way,” Mr. Peña said. The landlocked country of 6.8 million citizens is one of only 12 nations to maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei.

Mr. Peña foresees that bolstering the nation’s commitment to Taiwan “will allow Paraguay to connect not only with the one or two billion consumers in China, but with the 10 billion consumers that will be around the corner in 2050,” he said of the global population’s expected growth.

Surrounded by left-leaning neighbors, Mr. Peña’s election in Paraguay marked a departure from Latin America’s recent red wave. He described his country as an “island surrounded by land,” which has long been isolated from international trade. 

Mr. Peña compares his support of Taiwan to that of Israel and South Korea, pledging to endorse “relatively small countries next to large countries” in the face of pressure to side with mainland China due to its manufacturing and consumer power. 

Communist China is a leading source of capital for South America and has signed comprehensive strategic partnerships with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. The remaining holdouts in the region face heightened pressure to switch their allegiance to the People’s Republic, with Honduras being the latest country in the region to cut its ties to Taipei after it denied a request for billions of dollars in aid.

Mr. Peña said his nation’s stance toward Taiwan is “testimony” to its cooperation with like-minded democracies. Despite recent disputes between America and Paraguay over financial sanctions on Paraguayan political leaders, he described the historically allied nations as “good friends.”

“We are a young democracy,” Mr. Peña said, referencing Paraguay’s fight to overturn its brutal military dictatorship in 1992. “We know the value of democracy, of free speech, of free rights. These are the things that we want to advocate for.”


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