Rubio Vows to Cut Off Aid to El Salvador Following China Policy Change

Move could lead to first Chinese-controlled base in Americas

Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio / Getty Images
August 22, 2018

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) vowed to work to cut off aid to El Salvador after the country’s government switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, a move that could usher in the first Chinese-controlled military base in the Americas.

Rubio on Tuesday slammed El Salvador's decision to switch diplomatic loyalties from Taiwan to China, writing on his Twitter feed that such a move would be a "terrible mistake for the govt of El Salvador."

Rubio went on to question why the U.S. should continue to provide "so much" foreign aid to El Salvador after such a dramatic diplomatic shift.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Republican said he had spoken to President Trump "just minutes" ago on the topic and joined Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) in writing legislation "to end foreign aid to #ElSalvador after their leftist government decided to abandon #Taiwan in favor of #China."

Rubio and Gardner are writing an amendment to the "minibus" appropriations bill the Senate will consider this week.

Taiwan earlier on Tuesday announced it would sever diplomatic ties to El Salvador in advance of its anticipated shift to China. Taiwan had refused to foot the bill for the Port of La Union project.

The decision to establish a formal alliance with China leaves Taiwan with just 17 nations that officially recognize its status. Panama made the switch from Taiwan to China in 2017, while Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic followed early this year.

Washington views the decision through a broad lens, worried that the move is an attempt for mainland China to establish a military and strategic foothold in the Central American region.

The Central American country and China reportedly have been in talks over the port project for months. Washington and Taipei have been bracing for the shift in allegiances, suspecting that the Chinese government had pledged some type of major investment in the port.

The U.S. had given El Salvador roughly half a billion dollars over the last three years, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development website. Relations between the two countries have become increasingly strained over President Trump’s threats to cut aid from countries that "do nothing" from stopping MS-13 gang members from crossing illegally into the United States. Although the criminal gang originated in Los Angeles, most members of MS-13 operate in El Salvador.

Jean Manes, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, on Monday tweeted deep concern over the development.

"The U.S. is analyzing #ElSalvador’s decision," she tweeted. "It is worries for many reasons, including breaking a relationship of more than 80 years with #Taiwan. This will certainly impact our relationship with the government. We continue to support the Salvadoran people."

Last month, Manes publicly warned about China’s plans to turn the La Union commercial port into a "military base."

"It is a strategic matter, and we all need to keep our eyes open to what is happening," she said.

El Salvador's economy depends on coffee and textile exports, but the La Union shipping port has not produced the economic boost the government planned after it was completed in 2008. Government officials are seeking to increase maritime traffic by building up the port’s infrastructure and attracting more companies to operate there.

A third of the country's 6.4 million population lives below the poverty line. After a 12-year civil war and ongoing unstable leadership, poverty and gang violence continue to drive a mass exodus of immigrants flooding into the United States and elsewhere.

Foreign-policy experts dispute whether China would use the Central American port for military purposes. China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti last year, and foreign policy experts disagree over whether developing the port in El Salvador serves Beijing’s long-term economic or military interests – or both.