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President-Elect’s Intentions to Foster Stronger Ties with China Leave Guatemala’s Relations with US and Taiwan in Doubt

When little-known politician Bernardo Arevalo was declared the winner of Guatemala’s presidential run-off vote on Aug. 20, it marked the end of over a decade of conservative leadership. However, concerns have been raised about Arevalo’s goal of strengthening ties with China, which could pose a problem for both the United States, Guatemala’s top trade partner, and Taiwan. Guatemala is one of only 13 countries that diplomatically recognizes Taiwan over China and serves as one of Taiwan’s two remaining allies in Central America. Just one day after the election results were announced, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed a desire for Guatemala’s new president to establish formal diplomatic ties with China. Analysts are worried that expanding relations with China could go beyond trade and result in a wider political agenda. This trend has been seen in other Latin American countries where anti-U.S. sentiments have risen along with China’s economic engagement. Some analysts argue that it’s not realistic for Guatemala to maintain good relations with both Beijing and Taipei. Recently, the Central American Parliament decided to expel Taiwan as a permanent observer in favor of China. Despite the potential risks, Arevalo sees deepening engagement with China as a necessary evil due to the country’s influence in Latin America. China is already an important trading partner for Guatemala, and its imports from the country have been increasing. However, some experts caution that the economic benefits may primarily benefit the corrupt elite rather than the general population. Arevalo’s presidency faces numerous challenges, including allegations of false signatures on his party’s registration documents and claims of election fraud. Moreover, Guatemala’s deeply rooted corruption poses a significant obstacle that economic investment from China may complicate further. Overall, the road to Arevalo’s inauguration in January 2024 is likely to be rocky.

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