El Salvador’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in August 2018 was the third such change in Latin America following the end of the informal truce that had restrained the PRC’s diplomatic competition with Taiwan between 2008 and 2016. This pivot also precipitated expressions of concern from Washington, whose reaction to prior changes in diplomatic posture by the Varela government in Panama (June 2017) and the Medina government in the Dominican Republic (May 2018) had been more muted. Since then, El Salvador’s experience with the PRC has been decidedly mixed, reflecting a combination of Central American economies’ short-term limitations in boosting their exports to China, diplomatic pushback and counterincentives from the United States, and the PRC’s failure to follow through on some of its promises—not to mention the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, which devastated the global economy and put projects on hold across the region.
El Salvador’s recognition of the PRC occurred under the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) government of former guerilla leader Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who had fought against El Salvador’s U.S.-backed junta during the country’s 1979–92 civil war. As part of its initial “thank you” gifts to the Sánchez Cerén government, Beijing sent 3,000 tons of rice and promised $150 million toward 13 infrastructure projects, few of which have been realized yet.
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