RIO DE JANEIRO — Taiwan has built thousands of homes for the poor in Paraguay, upgraded the country’s health care system, awarded hundreds of scholarships and even helped fund the futuristic Congress building in the capital, spending generously over decades to nurture their diplomatic ties.
But the alliance, which makes Paraguay one of only 15 nations to have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and the only one in South America, is facing an existential threat as Paraguay’s quest for vaccines becomes increasingly desperate.
With its health care system buckling as Covid-19 cases soar, Paraguayan officials across the political spectrum say the time has come to consider dumping Taiwan, which doesn’t export vaccines, in order to establish diplomatic ties with China, which does.
“This is really a life and death situation,” said Pepe Zhang, an associate director at the Atlantic Council who specializes in relations between Latin America and China. “In this very acute phase of the pandemic, less resourceful countries like Paraguay are asking where they’re going to get the vaccine.”
to rely predominantly on Chinese vaccines to blunt an epidemic that has left a brutal toll.
That has given Beijing considerable leverage in a region where it has a broad constellation of investments and projects. Suddenly, wresting Paraguay from Taiwan’s orbit — which would advance Beijing’s goal of politically isolating an island it regards as its territory — appears within reach.
Euclides Acevedo, Paraguay’s foreign minister, said recently that Beijing has made it clear it is interested in establishing ties with Paraguay. He has dangled that prospect of making the diplomatic switch as he has sought to pressure Taiwan and its ally, the United States, to get vaccines to Paraguay quickly.
late last month in an interview on the television network Telefuturo. “I think our strategic allies, including the United States and Taiwan, must respond.”
Beijing’s one-China principle forces countries to choose between having full diplomatic relations with Beijing or Taipei. Three countries in Latin America blindsided and angered the United States government in recent years by abruptly severing ties with Taiwan following secret negotiations with Beijing.