By Ann Wang
TAOYUAN, Taiwan (Reuters) -Taiwan Vice President William Lai left on Tuesday to shore up a shaky relationship with Honduras and attend the swearing-in of its new leader, an event U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is also going to, potentially giving the two a chance to interact.
China has ramped up pressure to reduce Taiwan's international footprint, saying the democratically governed island is Chinese territory with no right to state-to-state ties.
Honduras is one of only 14 countries to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro, however, has floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing.
Speaking at Taiwan's main international airport in Taoyuan, Lai said he would bring supplies to help Honduras combat the COVID-19 pandemic to demonstrate Taiwan's determination to support Castro's government from the start.
"As President Castro prepares to promote new policies, Taiwan will uphold the spirit of pragmatic diplomacy and mutual assistance, deepen cooperation with Honduras, and overcome various difficulties to benefit both countries' peoples," Lai said.
Lai, who is scheduled to meet Castro on Wednesday, added he would have "interactions and exchanges" with "leaders and deputy leaders" of allies and "friendly countries", though he did not directly mention Harris.
The trip will show the world that Taipei is "a trustworthy friend and that Taiwan has the ability to help the international community", Lai said.
U.S. officials have suggested to Reuters that there will not be a formal meeting between Lai and Harris in Honduras.
Any such meeting would anger China. While Washington has no official diplomatic relations with Taipei, it is Taiwan's most important international backer and arms supplier, a frequent source of tensions between Washington and Beijing.
In the run-up to the November election, a visiting U.S. delegation to Honduras made clear it wanted the Central American country to maintain https://www.reuters.com/world/us-has-urged-honduran-presidential-candidates-keep-ties-with-taiwan-official-2021-11-24 its Taiwan relations.
Lai, as is common when Taiwanese leaders visit Latin American allies, is stopping off in the United States on his way to and back from Honduras, to which China has as usual expressed its opposition.
The U.S. State Department has said as part of those stops that Lai would meet with James Moriarty, a senior U.S. official and chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, which carries out Washington's unofficial relations with Taiwan.
The United States has worried about growing Chinese influence in its backyard.
China has been stepping up efforts to win over Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies, last month re-establishing relations with Nicaragua, a neighbour of Honduras, and has openly said it is aiming to reduce the number to zero.
(Reporting by Ann Wang with additional reporting by Michael Martina in Washington; Writing by Ben Blanchard; editing by Mark Heinrich)