China hosts El Salvador, Dominican leaders after Taiwan switch

The Chinese leader welcomed Sanchez Ceren with a ceremony at the gargantuan Great Hall of the People (AFP Photo/WANG ZHAO) (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted El Salvador's President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Thursday, pledging aid to the Central American country months after it switched allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing.

Xi is hosting Sanchez Ceren and the leader of another country that recently ditched Taiwan -- Dominican President Danilo Medina -- this week.

The Chinese leader welcomed Sanchez Ceren with a ceremony at the gargantuan Great Hall of the People, where a military band serenaded the two presidents with their respective national anthems.

The two countries then inked deals pledging to cooperate on development, including on Xi's pet Belt and Road trade infrastructure project. Beijing also promised aid for education, health and drought relief.

China "welcomes" more exports from El Salvador, and will encourage more qualified Chinese companies to invest in El Salvadoran industries, said Xi in a report by state media CCTV.

China is also willing to offer scholarships to El Salvadoran students visiting China, and will encourage more Chinese tourists to travel to the Central American country, he added.

Sanchez told Xi he was "representing the El Salvadoran people to show you how grateful we are and our satisfaction now that we have restored our diplomatic relations".

El Salvador recognised Beijing in August, becoming the third country to abandon Taiwan this year, following the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso.

Medina will be hosted at the Great Hall of the People on Friday. He will also inaugurate the Dominican Republic's embassy in Beijing during his visit.

Only 17 countries remain in Taiwan's diplomatic circle as the self-ruling democratic island struggles to fend off Beijing's growing influence around the globe.

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949, but Beijing sees the island as part of its territory to be brought back into the fold.

Taiwan and China have been engaged for years in a diplomatic tug-of-war in developing countries, with economic support and other aid often used as bargaining chips for diplomatic recognition.

Central America has been a key bastion for Taiwan, with Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua still recognising Taipei rather than Beijing, which has used its economic muscle and promises of investment to entice governments.

But Panama broke ties with Taiwan last year.

The recent defections have irked the United States, which recalled its envoys from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Panama in September.

The United States recognises Beijing but is congressionally bound to ensure Taiwan's defence, with President Donald Trump's administration especially vocal on defending Taipei diplomatically.

A Chinese government spokesman said on Thursday that the diplomatic tie-up between Beijing and El Salvador "does not target any third party".