British former prime minister Liz Truss said Tuesday she would head to Taiwan next week to support the island democracy against what she said was China’s “increasingly aggressive behaviour”.
The announcement coincided with the first visit by a British minister to Hong Kong since 2018, before China dismantled the former UK colony’s democracy movement in a crackdown that has sent thousands of Hongkongers leaving for new lives in Britain.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman denied that the government was kowtowing to China, insisting the visit by investment minister Dominic Johnson was “completely appropriate” to support UK jobs and that London would continue to challenge Beijing.
Commenting on Truss’s trip, which is likely to rile Beijing given its insistence that self-governing Taiwan remains Chinese territory, the spokesman added: “Our longstanding position on Taiwan has not changed.”
Britain and Taiwan have a “strong unofficial relationship based on deep and growing ties in a wide range of areas, and that’s underpinned by our shared democratic values”, he told reporters.
Truss, who is expected to deliver a speech in Taipei on May 17, said in a statement: “Taiwan is a beacon of freedom and democracy.”
“I’m looking forward to showing solidarity with the Taiwanese people in person in the face of increasingly aggressive behaviour and rhetoric from the regime in Beijing.”
Sunak has rowed back on Truss’s tough rhetoric against China issued before and during her 49-day tenure in 10 Downing Street last year.
– Rebuilding profile –
Had her premiership lasted longer, it was widely expected that Britain would designate China as a strategic “threat” rather than a “systemic challenge” as it is viewed now in London.
But her disastrous economic plans ensured she became the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history.
Since then, she has been trying to rebuild her profile with a series of speeches overseas, including in Tokyo and Washington.
In March in the US capital, she welcomed the announcement that the UK would be joining 11 other economies in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
But Truss warned at the time: “It’s essential that any idea of Chinese accession is ruled out (and) I’d expect the British government to oppose any such proposal.”
On Friday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly met with China’s Vice President Han Zheng, who was visiting London for the coronation of King Charles III.
Han’s attendance at Saturday’s coronation was condemned by China hawks in Sunak’s Conservative party, given that he took a leading role in the Hong Kong crackdown.
Cleverly said afterwards that he broached areas of “deep disagreement” with the vice president including Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan.