By Edgar Calderon

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her Guatemalan counterpart, Alejandro Giammattei, on Saturday took in the jungle ruins of a Mayan civilization citadel where they observed an ancient ritual before a massive stone pyramid known as El Gran Jaguar.

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This handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency shows Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (L) and Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei (R) shaking hands at the Tikal archaeological site in Peten, Guatemala on April 1, 2023. Photo: AFP PHOTO/GUATEMALAN PRESIDENCY.

The two shook hands there and vowed to maintain strong ties in the face of a diplomatic offensive by China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

The assembled dignitaries “witness today the strengthening of the friendship between our nations,” Guatemalan deputy culture minister Jenny Barrios said.

Tsai’s visit, which will also take her to Belize, comes days after neighboring Honduras broke diplomatic relations with Taipei to link up with Beijing, which does not allow countries to recognize both China and Taiwan. Honduran President Xiomara Castro is expected to visit China soon.

The two presidents walked to a nearby esplanade and shook hands for a symbolic official photo while a bonfire lit during a Mayan dance ceremony burned. They also witnessed a traditional ball game played in Mayan times.

In a meeting with Giammattei on Friday night, Tsai thanked him for his support last year when China conducted military maneuvers near the island.

She also highlighted cooperation with Guatemala, one of only 13 diplomatic allies the self-governing island has in the world, mostly small nations in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Latin America.

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Taiwan. File photo: GovTW.

Speaking to the media with Tsai at his side, Giammattei called Taiwan “the one and only true China.”

Some Guatemalans believe their nation is losing economic opportunities by choosing Taiwan over mainland China.

“China is a market of more than one billion people, and it would be in the interest of some Guatemalan sectors to export and import products from China,” sociologist and political analyst Miguel Angel Sandoval told AFP.

On Sunday, Tsai will visit a new hospital in the city of Chimaltenango, in western Guatemala, built with a $22 million donation from Taipei.

Tsai will then leave for Belize, where she is to meet with Prime Minister John Briceno on Monday and depart on Tuesday.

On her way home, Tsai will stop in California to meet with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a meeting that prompted China to warn Washington that it is “playing with fire.”

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