By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemala is considering reaching out to develop formal trade ties with China, the Central American country’s foreign minister told Reuters on Monday, although it plans to maintain its existing relations with Taiwan.

The Central American country is one of a handful of Taiwan’s remaining allies, as countries increasingly side with the world’s second largest economy China, which claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its territory.

“We are going to continue working with Taiwan at the levels we have been doing,” Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martinez said in an interview. “But the president has pointed out that we cannot ignore the weight and power China represents.”

President Bernardo Arevalo assumed office in mid-January amid a fraught transition process, vowing to put an end to corruption and also establish relations with China.

“We are interested in approaching them to try and develop some relationship around trade,” Martinez said, saying this could materialize as an “office of trade interests” that would help find a Chinese market for Guatemalan products.

“We are making it public, this is not an ambush against Taiwan or the United States,” he added.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, and a major arms supplier to Taipei.

China has in recent years increased its economic influence in Latin America, where countries have historically held closer ties with the United States. Many Central American countries have in recent years switched loyalties from Taiwan to China.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has signaled it no longer wants to compete with richer China in so-called “checkbook diplomacy”.

Regarding migration, Martinez signaled a rights-based approach, saying the new government would not repeat the “repression” of prior administrations, such as throwing tear gas at groups crossing Guatemala hoping to reach the United States.

Cooperation on fighting corruption and drug trafficking will be key issues to discuss with U.S. counterparts, Martinez added, noting that U.S. aid channels which were frozen under the previous administration are being re-established.

“The doors of cooperation are being reopened,” he said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Miral Fahmy)

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