“Nowadays our countries are much more than friends; they are partners and strategic allies that share values and the same vision to create a peaceful, democratic, and sustainable world.”
These are the succinct words of President Mario Abdo Benítez of the Republic of Paraguay, who is currently leading a delegation to Taiwan on a five-day state visit. Washington should welcome the constructive and forward-looking interaction between America’s two critical partners, one in the Indo-Pacific and the other in South America.
That’s because our Latin American neighbors have been a major diplomatic battleground for China and Taiwan. China has chased after Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch their recognition of Taiwan as a separate nation, independent of China. Beijing has gained eight conversions in recent years, including Nicaragua, which cut its ties with Taiwan in December 2021.
Paraguay is now one of only 14 countries around the world to have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China also has been seeking trade, diplomatic, and military ties in Latin America and the Caribbean for years. The region is rich in natural resources and developing markets for manufactured goods and even military arms.
Further underscoring that Paraguay and Taiwan are united by destiny, Benítez unambiguously pointed out, “In the face of continued threats and tense situation, the Taiwan people have not given up their resolve for peace, and continued to play the role of a beacon of democracy in the region.”
Taipei is uneasy about what’s been unfolding, to say the least, and Paraguay’s upcoming presidential election has sent Taiwan scrambling. Reports indicate that Paraguay would cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and open up relations with China if Paraguay’s opposition party presidential candidate wins in April.
From a broader geostrategic perspective, the overall challenges China poses on various policy fronts are still unnerving for the U.S. and many others. It has become unambiguous that China is the most capable adversary the United States is currently facing.
China is under the absolute control of the Chinese Communist Party, which is devious, cruel, and predatory. Its military and economic capacity and calculated willingness to challenge America and its allies around the world on almost all strategic fronts constitute a threat of unprecedented proportions.
Yet the United States can and must win the geopolitical diplomatic competition. There is still time for America to counter China’s malign and manipulative influence with other nations, but that window is quickly closing. Washington cannot win the battle of ideas and diplomacy without being proactive on this critical front.
To that critical end, Washington should pay closer attention to the ongoing interaction and the broad relationship between Paraguay and Taiwan while proactively paving a deeper and wider path of a pragmatic, strategic partnership amongst our three nations.
In recent years, Paraguay has implemented a series of significant political and economic reforms. This ongoing transformation has earned the nation plaudits from allies and potential investors alike. In 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored the country’s ongoing transition to democracy as an inspiration to the entire region. It was the first time a U.S. secretary of state had visited the country since 1965.
On the economic front, Paraguay has been delivering notable economic growth. Over the past five years, despite the challenging economic environment, its economy has grown at a greater rate than many of its neighbors. Similarly, as the World Bank has noted, Paraguay’s overall reduction in poverty has been “larger than the regional average.” The country also has made strides in battling corruption and inefficiency in the public sector.
The sustained push for economic liberalization and greater transparency in government has improved Paraguay’s competitive edge. The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom rates Paraguay’s economy as “moderately free,” and the country’s global ranking is ahead of neighboring large countries Argentina and Brazil.
Additionally, Taiwan—America’s and Paraguay’s long-time cherished ally—is a leading free-market democracy. The nation has demonstrated to the world that freedom is a stabilizing force and that free enterprise, free association, and free speech lead to entrepreneurship, prosperity, and security. That is precisely why Taiwan matters to the world now more than ever.
Indeed, history reminds us that allies and partners are critical to winning any global fight, particularly when members of the free world are facing increasing challenges from authoritarianism.
China does not currently pose a direct military threat in Latin America, but it represents serious competition that already has diluted U.S. influence to a significant degree. Washington cannot ignore this intrusion, but unfortunately, it has been creating a sizable and growing vacuum for China to fill in that critical region.
In that context, Paraguay’s relationship with Taiwan matters and should be further cultivated, particularly in greater and more strategic trade and investment partnerships with the United States.
It’s in the clear interest of Washington to welcome Paraguay’s continued, recommitted diplomatic engagement with Taiwan and further encourage more practical interaction of an elevated, forward-looking partnership amongst the three nations.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal