China has hit out at Britain for sending Trade Minister Greg Hands to talks in Taiwan and has demanded it cease all "official contacts" with the self-governing island republic.
Mr Hands is kicking off a two-day visit on Monday with discussions aimed at “boosting trade” and promoting British expertise in hydrogen and offshore wind. He is due to meet President Tsai Ing-wen and co-host the UK-Taiwan 25th annual Trade Talks in Taipei during the trip. But China – which considers Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to annex the island by force – has urged Britain to back off.
Beijing has sought to isolate Taipei diplomatically, imposing visa bans and other forms of retaliation against foreign officials and governments that have reached out in the past.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that the UK should uphold the so-called “one-China principle” and stop “any forms of official contacts with Taiwan”.
He accused Britain of "sending wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces" by going ahead with the visit.
Taiwan is excluded from the United Nations at Beijing’s insistence, and only has 14 official diplomatic allies. However, it has drawn increasing backing from major nations, including Japan, Australia, the US and Canada, and across Europe.
Britain does officially recognise the government of Taiwan due to the one-China principle, but the Foreign Office says it has an “unofficial relationship, based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties”.
The US holds the same stance, but continues to sell weapons to the nation, with president Joe Biden recently suggesting Washington would intervene in the event of an invasion.
A recent visit from Nancy Pelosi, the US House Speaker, sparked outrage from Beijing – prompting it to fire missiles over Taiwan into the Western Pacific to flex its military muscles.
China also positioned its aircraft and naval ships nearby, forming a virtual blockade of the island.
Downing Street defended Mr Hand's visit, with the prime minister’s official spokesman telling reporters: “We have a long-established trade relationship with Taiwan, it’s worth £8 billion a year.
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“These are annual talks between the UK and the ministry of economic affairs in Taiwan, we have a vibrant, long-standing relationship on areas like trade and culture, and this will form part of that engagement.” Ahead of his visit, Mr Hands said: “Boosting trade with this vital partner is 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.” Talks with minister Chern-Chyi Chen will look at “tackling barriers to trade in sectors such as fintech, food and drink and pharma, aimed at helping more UK firms export and invest in Taiwan”, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.
It added that Mr Hands “will also promote UK expertise in offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicles”. The UK’s £8 billion trade partnership with Taiwan has risen 14% in the last two years, according to the DIT, with UK exports to Taiwan going up by 12% during that period. Amid the trade talks, Innovate UK, the UK’s national innovation agency, will sign a memorandum of understanding with the ministry of economic affairs in Taiwan, “pledging to increase collaboration on technology and innovation”, the DIT added.