TEGUCIGALPA, March 16 (Reuters) - A high-ranking envoy of President Joe Biden will travel to Panama and Honduras this month, the U.S. Department of State said on Thursday, days after Taiwan ally Honduras said it would establish formal diplomatic ties with China.
Chris Dodd, the U.S. special presidential adviser for the Americas, will visit the two Central American countries from March 17 to March 21, the department said in a statement.
In recent years, the United States has focused on migration and security challenges stemming from Central America, as well as trade and development priorities, but it has also been concerned about Chinese efforts to expand its influence in the region.
Dodd, a former lawmaker, will meet Honduran officials and private-sector representatives, officials and finance leaders in Panama, as well as attend an annual conference of the Inter-American Development Bank.
"These visits advance the commitment of the United States to foster inclusive economic growth, democracy, human rights, and rule of law in the Western Hemisphere," the State Department said.
On Tuesday, Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced it would seek diplomatic ties with Beijing, which would come at the expense of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory with no right to state-to-state ties.
Castro's foreign minister, Enrique Reina, said on Wednesday that the pivot to China was partly because Honduras was "up to its neck" in financial challenges and debt - including $600 million it owes Taiwan.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei on Friday, Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen reiterated a warning to Honduras not to trust China and its offers of money.
"China has been suppressing Taiwan's diplomacy, so it will invest funds related to specific countries in order to block Taiwan's diplomatic development," he said.
Chinese investment as part of its Belt and Road energy and infrastructure network in these countries had mostly failed and led to financial difficulties, Chen said.
"Therefore, we very much hope that Honduras can recognize the true nature of China and hope they maintain diplomatic relations and not be deceived."
China on Thursday denied that former Taiwan allies like Panama and El Salvador had not benefited since forging relations with Beijing, saying they had received "tangible benefits".
If Honduras ended relations with Taiwan, it would leave the island with only 13 diplomatic allies.
While the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is Taiwan's most important international backer and arms supplier.
China says Taiwan is one of its provinces with no right to state-to-state ties, a view the democratically elected government in Taipei strongly rejects.