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Paraguay President Seeks Immediate EPA Talks With Japan; Defends ties with Taiwan against increasing pressure


AP
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Paraguayan President Santiago Pena, at the Presidential Palace in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, May 3, 2024.

ASUNCION – The President of Paraguay, Santiago Pena, during an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri, has expressed his strong willingness to immediately start negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a union composed of Brazil , Argentina and other countries. Shimbun Thursday in the country’s capital, Asuncion.

The interview was conducted ahead of Friday’s summit with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Paraguay currently holds the rotating presidency of Mercosur for the first half of this year, and the decision to move forward with EPA negotiations will be the focus of the bilateral summit.

Paraguay is the only country in South America that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Referring to pressure from home and abroad to establish diplomatic relations with China, Pena said: “We believe that our relationship with Japan and the United States should serve as a shield. [against such pressure]. Support for Paraguay will also support Taiwan,” and called on Japan to expand investment and open the meat market.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the volume of trade between China and the Central and South American Caribbean region, which amounted to approximately $14 billion in 2000, has increased to almost $500 billion – a 35- fold increase. 2022. China has become the region’s largest trading partner after the United States. Pena expressed particular concern over cases where Argentina has signed management contracts with a Chinese company for key waterways, crucial transportation routes in South America. He also expressed concern about China’s acquisition of interests in key resources such as lithium.

Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America, established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1957. With a population of about 7 million, Paraguay values ​​its friendly relations with Taiwan, building on historical parallels of oppression by neighboring powers. Between 1864 and 1870, Paraguay lost more than half of its male population in conflicts with Brazil and Argentina.

Pena said of Paraguay’s bilateral relationship with Taiwan: “Our position on Taiwan is unwavering. But the stronger our position, the greater the pressure from countries that want to dissolve our relationship.” He also revealed that he had been advised by Brazilian President Lula da Silva to establish diplomatic relations with China.

Pena acknowledged pressure from domestic agricultural groups. Although Paraguay is a major exporter of soybeans and beef, the country cannot export beef to China and is dependent on third countries such as Argentina for soybean exports. In Paraguay’s presidential elections last year, opposition candidates called for severing ties with Taiwan. Pena revealed his inner struggle, saying, “The question is, how long can we hold on? How much pressure, accompanied by pain, will we have to endure?”

He emphasized: “If we can demonstrate that maintaining relations with Taiwan is in the national interest, Paraguay can become a beacon for other countries.”

China has not hidden its dissatisfaction with Paraguay’s position. At a press conference in March, Lin Jian, deputy director general of the Press Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specifically criticized Paraguay, saying: “Paraguay should not act recklessly, but should carefully assess the situation and be on the right side of the stand in history. ”

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