TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan condemned China on Wednesday for seeking to use vaccines for political gain after Taipei's diplomatic ally Honduras said it was considering opening an office in China in a bid to acquire much needed COVID-19 shots.
Honduras does not have formal relations with China and is one of a group of Latin American nations that have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that to buy Chinese vaccines, he would do as the Chinese had suggested and look for a "diplomatic bridge".
Several Latin American nations are receiving Chinese vaccines, but countries that have built ties with Taipei rather than Beijing, such as Honduras and Guatemala, are not.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said China was trying to use the same methods it did with Paraguay, another Taiwanese ally that Taipei has complained of Beijing trying to push into a vaccines-for-recognition deal.
"This clearly proves that following the vaccine crisis in Paraguay, the Chinese government is once again using vaccines to exchange political and diplomatic benefits for countries that are in urgent need, a shameful act of disregarding humanitarian needs," Ou said.
Honduras has reaffirmed its ties with Taiwan, and Taiwan promises to help to the best of its ability to alleviate the health crisis, including working with "like-minded" countries, she added, a reference to democracies such as the United States, the European Union and India.
In Beijing, Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said China was committed to helping provide vaccines to the developing world as a public good.
China hopes that "relevant countries can appropriately handle Taiwan-related issues according to the one China principle" she added, which states that Taiwan is part of China.
Beijing has been gradually whittling away at Taiwan's diplomatic allies - now down to just 15 countries - which has alarmed Washington, nervous about an increased Chinese presence in Latin America and the Pacific where those allies are concentrated.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle)