UK Trade Minister Heads to Taiwan for Talks, Sparks China Rebuke

Britain announced Monday that a trade minister was heading to Taiwan for the first in-person talks since the coronavirus in a bid to strengthen ties with the island, a trip that sparked a rebuke from Beijing.

Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands will co-host annual talks and meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during his two-day visit, the Department for International Trade said.

The visit “is a clear signal of the UK’s commitment to boosting UK-Taiwan trade ties. Like the UK, Taiwan is a champion of free and fair trade underpinned by a rules-based global trading system,” the department said in its statement.

A spokesperson for Britain’s de facto embassy in Taiwan told AFP that Hands’ official program would start on Tuesday.

Hands said boosting trade with a “vital partner” like Taiwan was “part of the UK’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific and closer collaboration will help us future-proof our economy in the decades to come”.

Taiwan has seen a flurry of visits by foreign officials and lawmakers in recent months, the most high-profile of which was US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose trip infuriated Beijing.

China claims the self-ruled island democracy as part of its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary, and opposes any move that might lend Taiwan international legitimacy.

China staged unprecedented military drills in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit in August, sending tensions to their highest level in decades.

Beijing’s foreign ministry criticized the visit by Hands using rhetoric it often employs for such trips.

“China firmly rejects any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region by any countries having diplomatic ties with China,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily press conference.

Zhao said Beijing urged Britain to “stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan separatist forces”.

Like many countries, Britain diplomatically recognizes Beijing over Taipei, but it maintains unofficial relations with the island through a representative office.

The last time a British minister travelled to Taiwan was in 2018.

Britain said this week’s talks would try to address barriers in some sectors including “fintech, food and drink and pharma” and that trade between the two had risen 14% in the last two years to $9 billion.

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