TAIPEI (Reuters) -- Taiwan has opened a representative office in Guyana, the island's foreign ministry said on Thursday, drawing praise from the United States, worried about deepening Chinese influence in Latin America, and a rebuke from Beijing.
Guyana, a former British colony, is strategically located next to strife-torn Venezuela, a major Chinese ally with which Guyana has a territorial dispute.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said it had signed an agreement with Guyana on Jan. 11 to open a Taiwan Office, in effect a de facto embassy for the island that China claims as its sovereign territory with no right to diplomatic ties.
The ministry said the office had begun initial operations on Jan. 15, noting that Guyana was a country with rich mining and oil resources and its capital Georgetown was the seat of the secretariat for the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM.
Guyana has traditionally had close ties with China.
Foreign Minister Hugh Todd said what is being set up is a trade and investment office in Georgetown to "create space" for the private sector in Taiwan and Guyana to do business.
"Guyana is not recognising Taiwan as an independent state. Guyana is not establishing diplomatic relations with Taipei," he said.
The U.S. embassy in Guyana said it applauded the agreement.
"Closer ties with Taiwan will advance cooperation and development in Guyana on the basis of shared democratic values, transparency, and mutual respect"," it said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing hoped Guyana would not engage in official ties with Taiwan, calling on the country to "earnestly take steps to correct their mistake".
Taiwan only has formal diplomatic relations with 14 countries, including four Caribbean nations.
The United States has been angered by China slowly taking away Taiwan's support in the region.
In 2018, the United States attacked El Salvador's decision to ditch diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, saying the change was of grave concern to Washington and warning that China was offering economic inducements to seek domination.