A Taiwanese navy flotilla docked in Nicaragua on Monday in a high-profile visit highlighting ties with Central America and the Caribbean that are shrinking as China presses countries in the region to drop diplomatic relations. Panama recently established ties with mainland China while breaking official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

St.Kitts and Nevis is one of a few Caribbean nations to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This was the sixth time Taiwan has sent a “friendship flotilla” to Nicaragua. After Nicaragua,  the ships were to go on to make stops in the Marshall Islands, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. No mention was made of a visit to the Federation.

The three vessels — described as being on a training mission — cruised into Corinto, a port town on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, in a visit “to strengthen the ties of friendship,” Nicaraguan officials and Taiwanese diplomats said.

The warships were Pan Shi, a modern and sleek Fast Combat Support Ship, Pan Chao, an older, US-designed frigate, and Kuen Wing, a more recent, French-made stealth frigate.

Crew members of three Taiwanese Navy warships docked at Corinto port in Nicaragua, give a Taekwondo performanc

 

They were to stay in port for three days, with the crew of officers, sailors and cadets participating with the Nicaraguan military in joint training activities, the Taiwanese embassy said.

Taiwan is gradually running out of ports of call as China — which considers Taiwan a renegade province that will one day be brought back under Beijing’s control — presses countries to drop relations with Taipei.

Half the countries with which Taiwan has bilateral diplomatic relations are in Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is slowly losing ground there.

In June last year, Panama cut ties with Taiwan to open relations with China instead. Costa Rica did likewise in 2007.

– Assertive China –

Nicaraguan soldiers stand guard beside three Taiwanese Navy warships, docked at the Corinto port in Nicaragua

 

The parts of Latin America that still have ties with Taiwan are the Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; the Caribbean states of Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, and Santa Lucia; and the South American nation of Paraguay.

Across the region, China’s increased investment and a more assertive foreign policy are being felt both economically and politically.

That trend has unsettled the United States, which views the Chinese interest as encroachment in a region that it once regarded as its backyard.

US President Donald Trump is to attend a summit of leaders across the Americas in Peru on Friday and Saturday.

White House officials said part of his focus would be on pushing back against “external economic aggression,” taken to mean China’s growing investment in the region.