El Salvador Seeks Free Trade with China After Abandoning Taiwan

China announced on Thursday that it is ready to start negotiations with El Salvador to broker a free trade deal, pushing further commercial and political ties between the two nations.

The announcement comes four years after El Salvador decided to rupture ties with Taiwan.

“Today, China and El Salvador jointly announced that the two sides are ready to launch the bilateral free trade negotiation process as soon as possible and will make joint efforts for an early conclusion of the deal,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference held on Thursday. “This speaks volumes about the shared desire of the two sides to deepen bilateral ties and upgrade economic and trade cooperation.”

El Salvador had broken off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2018 under the presidency of Salvador Sánchez Ceren, tacitly adhering to the Chinese Communist Party’s so-called “one China principle.” China’s version of the “One-China principle” states that only one China exists in the world and Taiwan is a province of China. The “One-China policy,” which the United States adheres to, states that there is only one China, but does not specify if the Republic of China (Taiwan) or the People’s Republic of China is the legitimate China. Taiwan’s “One-China policy” states that only one legitimate China exists in the world, with its capital in Taipei, and the communist regime in Beijing is an aberration.

One year later, under the presidency of Nayib Bukele, the Central American country joined China’s predatory Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). During Bukele’s presidency, El Salvador has received millions of dollars from China for infrastructure development, which Bukele insists are donations and not loans.

El Salvador, alongside Honduras, had both signed a free trade agreement with Taiwan in 2007 that went into effect in 2008. Although El Salvador had broken off all relations with Taiwan in 2018, the free trade agreement between both countries was maintained until November 09, 2022, when El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) upheld its suspension.

The free trade agreement had been maintained active through a writ of protection granted by El Salvador’s courts to the nation’s Sugar Association in 2019, which allowed the association to export up to 80,000 metric tons of sugar to Taiwan without paying tariffs — an amount that represented up to 15 percent of the nation’s yearly sugar exports.

“In doing so, El Salvador has chosen to stand on the right side of history and made a decision that serves the fundamental and long-term interests of both countries,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao commented over the suspension of El Salvador’s free trade agreement with Taiwan.

“China highly appreciates that. This again shows that upholding the one-China principle is an overriding trend that represents the overwhelming consensus of the world and enjoys popular support. This is a trend that no force can hold back,” Zhao added.

On Wednesday, El Salvador received 930 tonnes of wheat flour and 1,450 tonnes of fertilizer from China.

“Here is a sample of the solidarity of the People’s Republic of China with El Salvador,” President Bukele said during the official event, while asserting that the Chinese donation would “mitigate the impact of the worldwide economic crisis.”

Bukele’s rapturous approach to China is a complete opposite of his stance against the Asian nation’s communist regime before he took office.

In 2019, Bukele, who was El Salvador’s president-elect at the time, stated, “China does not play by the rules, they do not respect the rules,” during an event held by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. Bukele further asserted that China “develop[s] projects that are not feasible, leaving countries with huge debt that cannot be paid back and use that as financial leverage.”

“They are not a democracy, but they intervene in your democracy,” Bukele added.

Bukele’s comments on China had been fiercely rejected by China through its embassy in El Salvador. 

“China never looks to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations, but always opens and develops diplomatic relations with all countries, just as is the case with El Salvador,” a statement released at the time read.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that according to El Salvador’s vice president, Felix Ulloa, El Salvador had received an offer from China to buy off its $667 million external bond debt from holders.

On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya said that he was unaware of such an offer from China.

“I do not know about the vice president’s statements, any information on the handling of foreign debt issues is made from the Ministry of Finance. I do not know the report so I could not pronounce the terms and conditions that I do not know completely,” Zelaya said.

Reporting by Breitbart News.