I beg to move,
That this House has considered UK relations with Taiwan.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in Westminster Hall, Mr Paisley. I place on record my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: along with many colleagues, I took part in the all-party parliamentary group visit last month to Taiwan, where we were hosted by the Government and businesses from across Taiwan. That is one of the great values of all-party parliamentary groups; we can visit countries and states around the world, report back to Parliament and brief Ministers and members of the Government who, despite the extremely hard work that they undertake, cannot be everywhere all the time. It is a vital part of our parliamentary work.
To set the scene, Taiwan is the 22nd largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of close to $530 billion. It is a growing country with a population of 24 million, concentrated around the coast of a volcanic island, and its industry is growing dramatically. It is a vibrant democracy and an open society, with opportunities to share our values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The UK and Taiwan have many shared interests in maintaining peace and stability not only in Asia but in the Asia-Pacific region in general.
Taiwan is also, of course, well known around the world for its high-tech information and communications technology industry. Its target of increasing and strengthening five key industries—the Asian silicon valley, biomedicine, green energy, smart machinery and defence—means ample opportunities for free trade between us and Taiwan. I am one of those who believe that in the Brexit era, we have an opportunity to be internationalist and broaden our horizons in terms of the countries with which we trade and opportunities to set up new arrangements around the world. Taiwan is one country where we have a huge opportunity, because we have such a strong base to build on.
Taiwan has been a World Trade Organisation member since 2002. Who knows where we will be after March 2019, but I suspect that given our involvement with countries such as Taiwan, we will have an opportunity to forge closer links and possibly a free trade deal and further co-operation with Taiwan post-Brexit. As our economic relationship is central, further improvements have been made. More than 300 UK companies have business operations in Taiwan already. I ask not only the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but the Department for International Trade to encourage more UK companies to set up trading links with Taiwan.
At the last count, Taiwan was the UK’s 39th largest export market and 28th largest source of imports overall. We exported £1.8 billion in goods to Taiwan in 2015, but imported £3.5 billion, giving a trade deficit of £1.7 billion. We have had a trade deficit in each of the last 10 years. It is important, in the post-Brexit world, to look to improve the importance and levels of our exports. Our exports to Taiwan peaked as long ago as 2010, so there is a lot of potential to improve on the position.
To give a brief history of Taiwan and our trade involvement, in 1950 we ended unofficial relations with the Republic of China following the Chinese civil war and recognised the People’s Republic of China, but we maintained our relations in Taipei and continued to conduct trade-related activities. In September 1963, a Government office was established in the UK by the name of the Free Chinese Centre, becoming the Taipei Representative Office in 2015. Obviously, there is a lot of opportunity there.
In 1976, we established the Anglo-Taiwan Trade Committee in Taipei, which ended up increasing our involvement with Taiwan overall. In 1993, the Anglo-Taiwan Trade Committee and the UK Education Centre merged to become the British Trade and Cultural Office, which became the British Office Taipei in 2015, to ensure that we extended the full scope of the work.
The Government’s position on Taiwan has been summarised in written evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs:
“Under the terms of the 1972 agreement with China,”
“acknowledged the position of the government of the PRC that Taiwan was a province of the PRC and recognised the PRC Government as the sole legal Government of China. This remains the basis of our relations with Taiwan.”
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister clarify, when he replies to this debate, our relations with China?
I, too, have an entry in the register. Early in my ministerial career, it became abundantly clear to me what huge importance our principal ally, the United States, attaches to free movement within the South China sea. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must bear in mind in all our future relations with China the importance that our principal ally attaches to the South China sea?
The military position with respect to Taiwan and the statements made by the People’s Republic of China—not least this week, as representatives have met to determine their future strategy and reconfirm their view that Taiwan is a province of China—strengthens my view that we must stand steadfast with our allies in the United States and in Taiwan to ensure Taiwan’s future economic prosperity and independence.
I declare my interests as contained in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also chairman of the British-Taiwanese all-party parliamentary group. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a great shame that relations between Taiwan and China have deteriorated since the democratic elections in which Tsai Ing-wen was elected President of Taiwan? We can see from the number of flights between Taiwan and China every week—more than 800—that if only both sides could sit down and see how many mutual interests they have, the prosperity that would pour from that would be beneficial to the peoples of both countries.
Opportunities will arise with the recommencement of direct flights from the UK to Taipei on 1 December. That is a welcome move, which will encourage the development of trading relations and tourism between the UK and Taiwan. As my hon. Friend says, it is right that given the number of flights and the relationship between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, there are opportunities for greater trade and co-operation.
As a result of the political situation in Taiwan, the people have exercised their democratic right to a vote—we all understand that in a democracy, we do not always get the results we would like—and have elected a President and a party that are far more independent of the People’s Republic of China than the Chinese might like. On our visit to Taiwan, the great impression that I gained, as I am sure other colleagues did, was that the people of Taiwan see themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese. That is very important for our future relations.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) referred to defence links. Although the UK does not have any military ties with Taiwan, we should press the Government to promote Taiwanese participation in international organisations, so that we can normalise relations and gain from its expertise.
It would be great if we had more military links with Taiwan—for example, if Royal Navy ships visited. The United States does not visit Taiwan because of Chinese pressure, but perhaps we should be looking at that sort of activity. I ask the Minister to consider that. Royal Navy vessels are in the South China sea and it would be great for them to visit Taiwan. That may upset the Chinese, but frankly—tough.
Can I take my hon. Friend back to his assertion that the Taiwanese people do not see themselves as Chinese? Part of the complexity of the issue is that some do. The tragedy was that Chiang Kai-shek saw precisely that identity, and it was that put him in the position of refusing the possibility of remaining in the United Nations when the People’s Republic of China became the proper representative of China and the Chinese.
I apologise for intervening again; sadly, I have to leave soon on Select Committee business. As well as being chairman of the British-Taiwanese all-party group, I am vice-chair of the all-party group on China. This is a complex issue. When I say that I am a friend of China and a friend of Taiwan, some people cannot get their head around that, but we want to have good relations with Taiwan and China. We need to promote that and get both sides working together.
My hon. Friend gets to the meat of the issue. We need to use our soft power, particularly in the post-Brexit era, to harness co-operation from individuals and individual countries around the world. The opportunities for co-operation will allow the economies of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan to grow, to the mutual benefit of all citizens. We should encourage that.
I return to the British Government’s role. In 2009, Taiwan became part of the visa waiver programme. It was decided, after assessing different regimes around the world, that Taiwan was a low-risk country. During the first year of the programme, the number of visitors to the UK from Taiwan increased from 26,100 to 54,200. The estimated figure last year was 82,900, and with the introduction of direct flights, the numbers will increase yet further.
The Taiwan-UK youth mobility scheme, which provides 1,000 UK visas each year to Taiwanese people between the ages of 18 and 30, was launched in 2012. It also gives UK young people the opportunity to visit Taiwan each year and interrelate with young people from Taiwan. That needs to be part and parcel of the future of our relationship. Those on the scheme are encouraged to work full or part time, to carry out voluntary activities or study, and to understand the mutual benefits of the culture, society and lifestyles of our two countries. In 2016, the UK Government opened the registered traveller service to Taiwan, which has improved the convenience of travel for Taiwanese citizens who visit the UK frequently. We have built stronger relations between our two nations as a result.
There are clearly many opportunities. In the past year alone, visits to Taiwan have been made by the Minister for Trade Policy; by the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, Lord Faulkner; and by three UK parliamentary delegations. In February, a number of UK cities participated in the first ever UK-Taiwan smart city forum in Taiwan. In March, Sir David King, our special representative on climate change, visited Taiwan. In June, Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs met the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), to promote co-operation on renewable energy. In September, Lord Faulkner visited Taiwan again, to witness the signing of a letter of intent for co-operation on railway heritage between Taiwan and the UK. Direct flights will resume on 1 December; I trust many colleagues will be present to witness the first flight arriving at Gatwick. Clearly, we will need to expand Gatwick to accommodate all the extra flights coming to our great city of London.
We need to build on our strong relationship and promote regular dialogue between our two countries.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I was on one of the delegations to Taiwan. The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech on our relations with Taiwan. Given all the delegations that take place and all the ministerial support that the UK and Taiwan give each other, will he encourage the Minister to encourage his Chinese counterparts to allow Taiwan observer status in international bodies? That status has been stripped from Taiwan recently, which has set back its whole economic development and strategy. The best way of improving Taiwan’s relations across the world is to allow it to have observer status in international bodies.
I am coming on to what needs to happen. First, we need to facilitate industry collaborations. Smart city initiatives give UK cities outside London the opportunity to participate in promoting business with Taiwan. With smart cities and industries such as renewable energy and railways, the UK and Taiwan can look forward to greater co-operation. We need to build on our successful links.
Secondly, we need to promote and support Taiwan’s participation in international organisations, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) says. One is the World Health Assembly. Taiwan was a key contributor to the WHA for eight consecutive years and dedicated itself to international medical work and disease prevention, so it was a great shame that it was excluded from the WHA this year, at the behest of the PRC. In my view, the PRC is adopting a short-sighted approach in continuing to want to exclude Taiwan, and I note that Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and my right hon. Friend the Minister have directly raised concerns about this issue with the PRC.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, epidemic of 2002-03 clearly showed what can happen if we exclude people and countries from participating in the promotion of good health. at that time, researchers in Taiwan did not receive the data they needed to combat that virus, and it continued to spread in both Taiwan and China. So we have a part to play in encouraging the PRC and other countries and organisations to promote Taiwan as a member.
I, too, have visited Taiwan and been influenced by what I saw there. The Taiwanese provide world-class emergency teams when something goes seriously wrong in any country worldwide and they should be hugely applauded for that. There is never a restriction; Taiwan sends its teams wherever it can, although sometimes China blocks them. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic thing that Taiwan does for the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree completely.
To continue with my short list of international organisations, another is the United Nations framework convention on climate change. We know that we cannot combat climate change by ourselves; we have to co-operate with all others across the world. Taiwan has set a very ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and it is therefore absolutely right, even though it is a small island state, that Taiwan should have a key role in helping and encouraging others to participate in this process. It is a great shame that Taiwan has not been invited to do so since 2016, so I firmly believe that our Government should encourage others to allow Taiwan to participate in the process again.
Similarly, there is the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Back in 2013, Taiwan was invited to attend the ICAO assembly as a guest, but since the assembly in 2016 it has been excluded. That is complete nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) referred to the number of flights between Taiwan and China, and now of course international flights go from all over the world into Taipei, which means that Taiwan needs to be represented in the ICAO, even if just as a guest.
I also declare my interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My hon. Friend has touched on a very important issue—air safety. I sit on the Select Committee on Transport and air safety should not be a bargaining chip in international relations; it is paramount. No one country has a monopoly on the wisdom of what makes it safer for us to fly around the world, so I find it unexplainable that Taiwan—a major air carrier—should be excluded from deliberations on that issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Quite clearly, international air safety should trump all other issues. Irrespective of diplomatic relations, it does not make sense to fail to seek the co-operation of countries to ensure that international airspace is safeguarded.
The final item on my list of asks concerns the International Criminal Police Organisation, or Interpol. Cross-border crime is becoming a more serious issue year by year, and as we seek to contribute to the global efforts against organised crime, cyber-crime and terrorism, it is quite clear that in the coming years we should support Taiwan’s participation in Interpol as an observer so that further progress can be made. We can see that Taiwan has already made a great contribution towards Interpol, and quite clearly it is unfair and ridiculous that it is excluded from that organisation, especially given the levels of cyber-crime emanating from south-east Asia.
I return now to what I regard as the value of the British-Taiwanese all-party group. The group has more than 150 members from Parliament, which makes it one of the largest groups in Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley and Lord Steele are the two co-chairs of the group, which shows it not only has a cross-party view but speaks with a strong voice on behalf of the UK Parliament on relations with Taiwan. We should also remember that in October 2014 the Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, became the first ever Lord Speaker to visit Taiwan, which demonstrates the positive development that is taking place between our two countries.
I look forward to hearing further contributions from colleagues. I also ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to emphasise in his response to the debate the importance of UK-Taiwan relations and to say how we can further the development of those relations, economically, diplomatically and possibly militarily, if that is appropriate. Even more significantly, given the increased focus and increasingly outward-looking nature of the PRC, it will be important in the future that we stand by our allies and friends in the South China sea region, to ensure that that region is not destabilised.
I should inform Members that I intend to call the first opposition spokesperson at approximately 10.30 am. Given the number of people who have stood up this morning or who are down to speak, I do not need to put a time restriction on contributions. However, I ask Members to bear in mind that speeches should be about six minutes long, as I am sure there will be other interventions.
It is a pleasure to be called by you, Mr Paisley, to speak in Westminster Hall. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on making such a good case in this debate, which he secured.
The statistics about this issue are very important. In 2016, the UK exported some £1.8 billion worth of goods and services to Taiwan, and we imported goods from Taiwan that were worth some £3.5 billion. So we have a trade deficit with Taiwan, but we are very happy to have had such a trade deficit with Taiwan in each of the last 10 years.
UK imports from Taiwan peaked at £4.2 billion in 2012, and in 2015 the UK’s exports to Taiwan represented about 0.4% of all UK exports. In 2015, Taiwan was the UK’s 39th largest export market and the 28th largest source of UK imports. It is clear from those statistics and from the presentation by the hon. Member for Harrow East that there are links with Taiwan and that there is a desire for those links to be enhanced. That was also demonstrated by the work carried out by our esteemed Minister for Trade Policy, who visited the island last September, shortly after the Brexit vote; he secured a flight from Gatwick to Taiwan for the first time in five years. We hope to build upon such links over the next period of time, which would benefit both our countries.
However, as with any issue that involves a politician, things are rarely black and white. It is not so simple just to enhance trade with Taiwan, as we must also continue to respect our other trading partners, which in this case includes China. It is about getting the balance right.
From the outset, I have believed that my experience of hailing from Northern Ireland helps with this situation, as it shows that a border dispute must not signal the death of mutually beneficial trading deals. The Republic of Ireland is essential to our trade, as it is a big importer of our goods, and vice versa. Even if the British mainland makes it abundantly clear that Northern Ireland remains British and continues to do so, that will not stop trade with the Republic of Ireland. That can and should be the approach for dealing with the China-Taiwan issue. We can and must enhance trade links without further alienating the two nations, so it is a case of getting the balance right, as the hon. Member for Harrow East said when he introduced this debate.
Recently, I read an article that highlighted the fact that persecution of people on the grounds of their faith had increased over recent years in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, that article was set at the first Asia-Pacific Religious Freedom Forum, which this year was held from 18 to 21 February in Taiwan. That conference, which was hosted by the former Vice-President of Taiwan, Annette Lu, was timed to coincide with the Chinese new year celebrations and to come right after the general elections in Taiwan. It showed the passion in Taiwan for moving away from the Chinese enforcement of religion and for moving towards religious freedom. I believe that we have a duty to support Taiwan in that regard. China is guilty of many human rights and religious persecution issues, and we must acknowledge that. However, the fact that the conference was held in Taiwan sends out a clear message about the ethos of those who are elected in Taiwan. They want true co-operation, to allow people the freedom to believe as they choose, without fear of persecution. ChinaAid’s president, Bob Fu, a former Chinese dissident himself, said that the conference declaration was a road map
“for those who wish for a free world”.
People from 26 countries took part in the forum, from Pakistan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and others. They included representatives of charities and international non-governmental organisations that focus on freedom of religion, such as Open Doors International, which works with minority Christians worldwide. No one nation or organisation can work alone to fight the rising tide of hatred, so there is a need for greater co-operation between those who want a peaceful world. It is not too much to hope for the faith, hope, charity, love, mercy, liberty and peace that can help to preserve those people.
During the conference, Pakistan-born Swedish politician Nasim Malik said that nations across the world had realised that peace and stability were needed for development. Off the back of that peace and stability comes the opportunity for economic development. We have done it with China; we can do it with Taiwan, and we should work towards that. With prosperity and growth we can do that; Malik said that the countries in the Asia-Pacific region should also realise that reality for their economic growth and prosperity.
A similar viewpoint was held by Brian J. Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, who said that the global economy had become religiously diverse, so protecting religious freedom would strengthen the global economy as well. How true that could be, if we put that ethos clearly at the core of what we do. I believe that those two things can, and must, be intrinsically linked, and that we have a role to play. While strengthening our trading ties, we can and must offer the support for that freedom that will help people to grow an economically viable nation, whatever nationality is attributed to them.
Hailing, as we do, from a nation where many people often confuse the nationalities, it goes straight to my heart when people question whether I am Irish or British. Let me make it clear: I am an Ulster Scot, from Northern Ireland, and I am proud to be part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am very proud to put that on record; I am proud to be British. However, I must also say that to see my children with no food on their plates or no job to go would also go straight to my heart. There must be the ability to involve ourselves with economic issues without involving ourselves in nationality ones. That is a fine line, but I believe we possess the ability to walk it.
I am delighted to be able to speak in the debate—I am grateful to you, Mr Paisley, for allowing that—and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing it. I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
Taiwan’s place in the world remains uncertain, and that is regrettable. Taiwan is the most populous state and the largest economy that is not a member of the United Nations. It has undergone a transformation since the 1960s, from a relatively unprosperous dictatorship to a stable advanced economy and democratic state. Taiwan is one of the most democratic and liberal parts of Asia; that was most clearly illustrated by the ruling of the council of grand justices earlier this year that will pave the way for same-sex marriages. Human rights and the rule of law are generally respected in Taiwan, in contrast to many of its neighbours.
On the face of it, Taiwan is a state we should seek to promote as far as we can, so I have some sympathy with the 22,000 people who signed the petition calling for the UK to recognise Taiwan as a country. However, the issue is far from simple. The UK Government’s position on Taiwan is that the disagreement between the island and the People’s Republic of China is a matter for the two sides to agree between themselves by diplomatic means. That is a sensible approach to what is a complex international dispute, but it means that our links to Taiwan are not as close as they could be, which is unfortunate. It is disappointing, for example, that Taiwan has been unnecessarily excluded from some international organisations. Where Taiwan can contribute to the global good and there is no nationhood requirement, it should be allowed to participate, particularly as it is keen to do so. I see little reason why Taiwan cannot be accommodated in the assembly of the World Health Organisation or in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, for example.
Putting aside the international dispute surrounding Taiwan, the focus of our relationship with the state is to build on the strong economic links that we already have. Taiwan is a major economy, larger than Sweden, Thailand or Hong Kong, and it is a significant trading partner with the UK. We export nearly £2 billion-worth of goods and services to Taiwan, and it is good to see the UK Government building on that with their recent mission to promote UK renewable energy technology. With the first distilleries in 200 years set to open in my own area in the Scottish borders, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Taiwan is the third-largest overseas market for Scottish whisky. I was pleased that last year the UK Government worked with the Scotch Whisky Association to secure trademark certification for the product in Taiwan.
I have had the pleasure of enjoying that Taiwanese whisky, but I dispute that it will be able to compete with the finest Scottish brands.
About 38,000 British nationals visit Taiwan every year, and a few years ago I was lucky enough to be one of that number. I visited Taiwan as part of a delegation from the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on Taiwan. Taiwan is an incredibly beautiful and varied country. I found the Taiwanese people extremely friendly and accommodating, and was struck both by the economic development of the area and by its natural beauty. It is good that direct flights are set to resume between the UK and Taiwan. I would truly recommend Taiwan to tourists; it must be one of the most overlooked and underrated Asian destinations. I hope that other airlines will follow suit and provide a service to Taiwan from the UK, perhaps even from a Scottish airport.
I, too, refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I would like to speak about my relationship with Taiwan. I visited Taiwan at the invitation of the country in 2011 and, more recently, in 2015, in cross-party delegations on both occasions. I am really surprised to see that the shadow Minister is alone on the Opposition Benches today. I am surprised that the Opposition Members who enjoyed those visits with me have not wanted to share their ideas about our relationship with Taiwan.
In Taiwan, I was fortunate enough to meet talented politicians and dynamic businesses and to learn more about their cultural heritage. I also saw for myself what a beautiful island it is, especially around Sun Moon lake. If Members have the opportunity to visit Taiwan, I encourage them to do so, because it truly is a beautiful place.
A true relationship between two countries goes two ways, and I am absolutely delighted to announce that the Taiwanese ambassador is due to visit Cornwall next month. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I hope to introduce him to local politicians and to our creative and diverse home-grown businesses throughout Cornwall. I hope also to show him some of our heritage—after all, we have a world heritage site for our mining—and I hope that the ambassador and his team will be able to see the beautiful landscape that Cornwall is known for, so that, with the new direct flights, we might encourage tourism both from Cornwall to Taiwan and from Taiwan to Cornwall.
It is through such friendships, and a true working knowledge of each other’s country, that we can build the true, positive relationship we need with Taiwan as we leave the European Union and start building trading relationships around the world. I look forward to continuing to build that relationship with Taiwan. Taiwan deserves it and the United Kingdom can provide it through friendship.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this timely debate. I, too, visited Taiwan on a delegation earlier this year; as with others, that is recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. We saw a dynamic and go-ahead country eager to extend both cultural and economic relations with the UK. Some 7,000 or 8,000 students come from Taiwan each year to study here in the UK, and we should encourage and support that.
One area of particular interest where our two countries can work more closely is renewable energy. A delegation from Taiwan has already visited the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. Dr Lin, the very active UK representative, will visit both Cornwall and Cleethorpes in the next few weeks, and we look forward to that. We also have a particular relationship with Taiwan because Catherine Nettleton, our UK representative there, spent part of her childhood in Cleethorpes, attending Thrunscoe School. That is another help in cementing the relationship between our two countries. I note that a trade and industry delegation visited Taiwan earlier this month, so relationships are clearly developing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned numerous statistics in connection with Taiwan. Indeed, 98% of Taiwan’s energy needs are imported, so renewable energy is something we can develop. The North sea, as we know, is a hub for wind turbines, and the port of Grimsby services many of the turbines in the North sea. Grimsby, of course, is neighbour to Cleethorpes, and many of my constituents are involved in the renewable energy sector. I hope that when Dr Lin visits we can develop the relationship further.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that Taiwan is fast developing its renewable energy sector. It has also made the decision to decommission many of its nuclear power stations. That is a further source of trade co-operation between our two countries, because this country has considerable expertise in that field. Does he agree that we should be doing all we can to encourage that sector in this country to make contact with Taiwan to share our expertise in the field?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is another area of co-operation that we can develop further. Referring to the renewables sector in my own constituency, marine operations are particularly strong in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area, and the installation, operation and maintenance vessels that sail from there will be vital to Taiwan as it develops its offshore wind sector.
My hon. Friend mentioned transport. As I am a member of the Transport Committee, I refer to the situation on participation in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which is particularly important if Taiwan is to develop further its communications and transport connections with the wider world. I know that the UK representative has written to Transport Ministers about the importance of that, because to participate in the carbon offsetting arrangements Taiwan must be a member of that organisation. It benefits us all if Taiwan is involved to that extent.
Speaking in my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary rail group, may I refer to the co-operation between the UK and Taiwan on rail matters, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East? He referred to the heritage railway agreement between the Alishan forest railway and the UK’s Welshpool and Llanfair railway. I am not sure whether my Welsh pronunciation is correct; it is about as good as my Taiwanese pronunciation. Nevertheless, Lord Faulkner, who is also an officer of the all-party rail group, and our trade envoy, played a key part in bringing that together. I know that the Taiwanese would like to develop further co-operation in the rail industry, and I hope it can be advanced.
Taiwan is an example of an independent, democratic nation, with a population of around 24 million. Its wealth is increasing considerably. Think what a nation of more than 60 million, which happens to be democratic and the world’s fifth largest economy, can do once it becomes a free nation again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Paisley. I think this is the first time that I have spoken in a Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, and you are doing a sterling job. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this fantastic debate. I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I made a visit to Taiwan hosted by the Taiwanese Government last year.
I will keep my contribution brief. Taiwan and the UK share a love of free markets, aspiration and cutting-edge technology. In 2016, the UK and Taiwan did £5.85 billion of trade, and we hope to see that getting bigger and bigger in our post-Brexit era. We share a love of fine wine, fine food, whisky, cutting-edge technology, good bicycles and good cars. The UK also has 300 businesses that are based in and operating out of Taiwan, and we are keen to see that expand and two-way trade between Taiwan and the UK continue.
Some of the exciting technologies on which we could collaborate include biotechnology, renewable energy development, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) mentioned, electric cars, smart technology and using technology to help with social care needs. There is also, of course, tourism, where Taiwan and Cornwall share an intrinsic connection. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) mentioned the forthcoming visit of the Taiwanese ambassador to the UK in November, and I look forward to welcoming him, with my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), to Cornwall. I hope to talk to him about renewable energy technologies in Cornwall.
Moving on to the food industry—Taiwan and Cornwall share a love of food—in my North Cornwall constituency we have three Michelin-starred restaurants. When I went to Taiwan with the delegation, the food was fantastic, and I look forward to reciprocating that when Taiwanese representatives visit Cornwall.
My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally good point. A huge number of opportunities present themselves, and it is nice to hear of the investment that Taiwan is making in his constituency. It is a pleasure to speak today. Taiwan has a friend in Cornwall, and long may we stand together to promote free trade, free markets and good friendship.
We do not have to be here long to realise that we have to learn to think quickly on our feet.
Mention has been made of the important place that Taiwan has as a trading partner for the United Kingdom. That applies in particular to Scotland. Taiwan is our third or fourth biggest export partner. I heard one hon. Member say “third”, so I will say “fourth”. Perhaps it depends on what we count as exports, but they are about 10% of the UK’s total exports to Taiwan. Beverages are the single biggest export from the UK to Taiwan. The vast majority, of course, is proper whisky made in the only place in the world that has the right to call anything whisky. We allow them to import some cheap imitations from other parts of the United Kingdom, but we make sure that quality and quantity go together.
Imitation is, of course, the sincerest form of flattery. I have no doubt at all that the expertise both in designing the plant and in including the secret magic ingredients can be exported—methods can be taught—but it is still simply not possible to make proper whisky anywhere outside of Scotland. Those who believe that the Taiwan whisky is the best in the world also think you can make whisky in places such as Ireland, and I believe even Cornwall has had a go.
The economic ties that we have with Taiwan are important not simply because of the export business. Interestingly, I note that for the past 10 years the UK has had a substantial trade deficit with Taiwan. Given that a trade deficit with some countries in Europe is used as an excuse for severing ties with them, it seems strange that the big trade deficit that we have with Taiwan should somehow have the opposite effect. We want to increase and strengthen those links. There seems to be a contradiction or an inconsistency.
As far as the Government of Taiwan are concerned, the Scottish National party welcomes, as we all do, the progress that has been made. It is hard to believe it is only 30 years since Taiwan was under full martial law. It has made a lot of progress since then, which has not always been easy. You cannot change from dictatorship to full democracy in a generation without encountering difficulties along the way. We must recognise that for a lot of the time the Government of mainland China have allowed Taiwan to develop in its own way, although at times they have interfered to an extent that I think is unacceptable. I hope the Minister will agree with that.
Nobody has yet mentioned the arrest and detention of Lee Ming-che, a human rights activist from Taiwan who disappeared in March when he entered China. Within the past four or five weeks Chinese television has broadcast him confessing to sedition and endangering the security of the Chinese state. After six months’ secret detention by the Chinese authorities, most of us would confess to almost anything. We can only wonder what pressure was put on him. He has confessed to planning a website and encouraging people to oppose some of the policies of the Chinese Government, and to distributing literature that criticised the Chinese Government. In other words, he confessed to doing things that all of us do every day of our lives and that people in Taiwan are used to being allowed to do.
Perhaps we should ask the Chinese Government to take note of the fact that economic development in Taiwan has gone on at the same time as the increase in democracy and increasing liberalisation of society. As has been mentioned, Taiwan is the first place in Asia officially to accept the principle of same-sex marriage. I hope that is an example that will go forward elsewhere in Asia.
It was suggested in an intervention that we should look to export arms to Taiwan and look for more military involvement, but I think that would be a disaster just now. The last thing the United Kingdom needs is to find more places for military adventures and more places to sell weapons, when we have no idea how and when and against whom they might be used in future.
For obvious reasons, I can identify with the idea that Taiwan is recognised as a country that is not yet a country. It is a nation, but it does not quite have full state recognition in the United Nations, for example. On the future status of Taiwan, it is important to consider the wishes and the will of the Taiwanese people. Far too often in such circumstances—we can certainly see it from the Chinese Government—it becomes all about what is in the strategic interests of China, which would like to integrate Taiwan more fully into China and to use it as a military base, for example. Whether we are talking about the long-term constitutional status of Taiwan, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands or anywhere else, the ultimate question should always be: what is the will of the people? It is clear that for the time being, the will of the people of Taiwan is that it should not be further integrated into the People’s Republic of China.
On the status of Taiwan in the United Nations, there are 23 million people living in Taiwan—that is 35% of the size of our own population—and they are not represented at the United Nations. China blocks it and is very effective at blocking it. The United Nations and our Government should consider supporting moves to give proper observer status to Taiwan in the United Nations.
I certainly would not object to that. I can think of other places that should be afforded the same opportunity, because the United Nations wants to be as inclusive as possible and should look for ways to bring people in as observers, rather than to keep them out. For the record, I am not a great fan of the way in which the United Nations Security Council works. It seems to be about making sure that the big military superpowers prevent anything from happening that might go against their interests, rather than to make sure that the world develops in the best interests of most of the peoples of the world.
I will conclude now because I am keen to hear the Minister and the Opposition spokesperson. Taiwan is unique, as far as I know, among all the countries of the world. On its constitutional status and its status as a significant economic power, although it does not have official recognition as a part of the United Nations, as has been mentioned, it is a good example to us that sometimes we need to be prepared to look at answers that are slightly different from the norm and whether it is possible to recognise the sovereignty of people before, during or after the transition to full statehood and to full recognition on the world stage.
I hope that the Minister will continue to rule out military involvement through sales of arms or an actual military presence in Taiwan. I can understand from one point of view why that has been suggested, but I really do not think that that would be the right way to deal with a situation that in many ways is encouraging. As I have said, there has been a lot of progress in Taiwan in the past 30 years. However, there are still dangers and there is significant tension between Taiwan and China. One false or unwise move by the United Kingdom or other powers could make things a lot worse not only for the strategic security of the United Kingdom but particularly for the 23 million people who live in Taiwan.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who gave us a really good overview of the current state of modern Taiwan and our relations with it. He asked the Minister a good question about the current situation in the South China sea. I hope the Minister will be able to say something about the British Government’s position on that.
My ears really pricked up when heritage rail and Lord Richard Faulkner, a Labour peer, were mentioned. In my constituency in 1825 we built the first passenger train, so we are keen to strengthen links with all countries to whom we have exported trains over the years.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a good and important point when he spoke about religious freedom and the conference that was held in Taiwan. That is an indication of the good human rights record in Taiwan, which is an extremely important issue. I know he cares a lot about that.
We heard from two Cornish Members of Parliament. Like the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), I think that the recent court judgments on same-sex marriage are another indication of the significant progress on human rights in Taiwan. In terms of economic possibilities for trade and development, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) was right to point out the importance of developing our relations on renewable energy.
Her Majesty’s Opposition fully accept the One China policy, as we did in government. After being elected, President Trump made a telephone call to the President of Taiwan—probably the first time that there had been a direct conversation between presidents since Chiang Kai-shek was in America in the middle of the second world war. President Trump said:
“I fully understand the One China policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by the One China policy, unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”
Will the Minister tell us the Foreign Office’s response to that?
At the same time as accepting the One China policy, we recognise the significant progress that Taiwan has made in the last few decades in implementing an effective democracy and in human rights. We should acknowledge the role of civil society organisations, which have often been at the forefront of that progress on human rights.
Hon. Members have spoken about the involvement of Taiwan in international organisations. Taiwan is a successful and important member of the World Trade Organisation, and a good case was made for its membership of the World Health Organisation and the UN climate change body. The suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) that Taiwan could have observer status in some international organisations should be explored. I would like to hear from the Minister about that as well.
Obviously, relations between China and Taiwan are a matter for China and Taiwan. We want to see the continuation of dialogue between those countries, because that is ultimately the best way of securing peace and stability, which is in their interests, and those of the region and the wider world. The remarks by the Scottish National party’s Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), about not ramping up military pressure and stress were wise, and I share those sentiments.
From the United Kingdom’s point of view, trading relations and cultural exchange are clearly important, and the Opposition feel that they should be developed. That development does not have anything to do with Brexit; Taiwan is an important country—it is particularly advanced in modern electronics—and there is obviously a lot of scope for mutual benefit.
I truly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for introducing the debate, and I am relieved that he recognises that it is not in the interests of Parliament—let alone the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—to upset other nations. However, I also recognise the early bid by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) to join the diplomatic corps—perhaps as a Taiwanese whisky ambassador to somewhere like Antarctica. That might be the way forward.
I thank all members of the British-Taiwanese all-party parliamentary group for their valuable contributions to this vibrant and important debate. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), North Cornwall (Scott Mann), North East Cornwall—
Would my hon. Friend bear with me for two seconds? I just wanted to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont)—the new boy in our midst. He is a Freshfields alumnus, as am I, and I think his wise words on the legal matters were well received by the House.
I am sure that battles in Bodmin and elsewhere were fought over such matters. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I actually know her constituency rather well; close friends of mine have lived in Lostwithiel over the years. It is a very beautiful part of the world. Whether one is from Taiwan or any other part of the world, it is well worth visiting. It is not quite as beautiful as my constituency of course, but that is another matter.
Before I address the UK-Taiwanese relationship directly, I remind hon. Members of the British Government’s policy on Taiwan, as was set out by the Opposition, and will summarise where things stand with regard to Taiwan’s relationship with China and, indeed, the rest of the world. The British Government’s long-standing policy is that the issue of Taiwan should be settled by the people on both sides of the Taiwan strait. We therefore call on both sides to continue to engage in as constructive a dialogue as possible.
I may not be diplomatic, but I understand that in international law, national self-determination is a hugely important factor in determining a country’s future. Were the Government of Taiwan to ask the Taiwanese people whether they want to be independent, I suspect we know what the answer would be. The United Nations must wake up and understand that there are 23 million people who are largely unrepresented in the United Nations, but should be.
In fairness, I should point out that Taiwan acts independently—no one would dispute that—and the issue is that Taiwan is in a rather anomalous, unique situation in international affairs, which I shall try to touch on in my remarks.
There has been no official contact between the authorities in Taiwan and the Chinese Government since last year’s elections in Taiwan. However, both China and Taiwan’s leaders have recently noted that cross-strait relations have thickened substantially in the past decade; President Xi Jinping said so as recently as the 19th party conference, which comes to an end today. Economic ties have grown and continue to grow, and there has been more interaction between the people of China and Taiwan.
Turning to the relationship between Taiwan and the wider international community—something close to the heart of many hon. Members who have spoken today —the British Government believe that the people of Taiwan have a valuable contribution to make towards international co-operation on global issues such as aviation safety, climate change and organised crime. Their involvement would, in my view, reduce co-operation black spots, which pose a risk to the international community, including the United Kingdom and our own people.
However, I also accept that Taiwan’s ability to play the fullest possible role in addressing global challenges is restricted and has been under increased pressure over the past 18 months. As a number of Members have observed, Taiwan’s observer status in international organisations has come under closer scrutiny, and it was not permitted to observe the World Health Assembly as recently as May this year. The UK Government continue to support, and will continue to speak up for, Taiwan’s participation in international organisations where there is precedent for its involvement, where it can contribute to the global good, and where there is no prerequisite of nationhood for participation. We will uphold that nationhood issue and the one nation policy.
I appreciate that. It has been set up for quite some time, actually. Climate change has been a major global issue for 30 years, and I guess that Taiwan has had some involvement in international organisations of that ilk. It plays a useful and active role in, for example, the World Trade Organisation and the OECD, and I would like it to have the role that hon. Members referred to in Interpol and the International Civil Aviation Organisation. We meet Taiwanese delegations at the margins of such international meetings, and we will continue to do so. I accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and I will do my best to raise that issue. Many of the issues to which hon. Members referred, including aviation safety, international terrorism and climate change, are global and clearly apply as much to the 24 million people of Taiwan as to the other 7 billion inhabitants of the world.
The subject of this debate is the UK’s relations with Taiwan. Taiwan is a thriving economy, which enjoys the same democratic norms and values as the UK, including a free media and a vocal and active civil society. The UK and Taiwan enjoy strong, albeit unofficial, relations, which deliver significant benefits to us all. Taiwan continues to behave as a de facto state, but the UK does not recognise it as an independent state. Therefore, with great respect to all of my hon. Friends who referred to the ambassador, the truth is that the gentleman concerned, who is in the Public Gallery, is the unofficial representative to this country, not an ambassador in any official way. That is obviously a position we maintain, with our policy on China. That is an issue not just for this Government but for successive Governments over many decades. The relationship between us is strong and delivers significant benefits. That collaboration is built upon dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties, facilitated by the Taipei Representative Office in London and the British Office in Taipei.
Taiwan and the UK are both open to foreign investment. We share a belief—much diminished, I fear, in international affairs today—that free trade and open markets are the very best ways to grow our economies and enhance our prosperity. That means that trade is the cornerstone of the relationship between Taiwan and the UK. Taiwan is the UK’s sixth-largest trading partner in the Asia-Pacific region and our 33rd-largest globally. I suspect we will move up in those rankings rapidly in the years to come. Bilateral trade reached £5.3 billion in 2015. Although business and financial services were our largest export sector, two thirds of the UK’s exports to Taiwan were goods—notably vehicles and state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals. Taiwan is also our fourth-largest export market, as was pointed out, for Scotch whisky, taking in £175 million-worth of it in 2016—they obviously enjoy it. Of course, our trade flows both ways. The UK is Taiwan’s third-largest investment destination in Europe, ahead of France and Germany, and Taiwanese investment in this country totalled some $115 million in 2016.
A number of Members discussed Brexit. As we prepare to leave the EU, the British Government are working closely with all our major partners and investors in the Asia-Pacific region, including Taiwan, to grow those economic links.
The Minister will be well aware of the importance of the agri-food sector to Northern Ireland. We have been trying to increase our exports of pork products to Taiwan and China, and we have been somewhat successful. Will the Minister indicate what more can be done to help the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland develop those exports even more?
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I will have to get back to him on some of the specifics. More broadly, the UK and Taiwan are committed to continuing to take practical steps to enhance trade and investment between us and within the region. As has been mentioned, we have identified that live poultry and Scotch whisky are potential growth areas. We have also made great progress with our application to export pork products, paving the way for a Taiwanese delegation to conclude an inspection of UK facilities just last week. We hope that will lead to markets opening to UK exports very soon.
We want significantly to increase trade between the UK and Taiwan by improving reciprocal market access and helping our companies to do business on a level playing field. There are genuinely great opportunities for UK industries in sectors such as renewable energy, railways and transport infrastructure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) rightly pointed out, nuclear decommissioning is very important, not just in Taiwan but in the region as a whole.
The digital economy continues to offer opportunities for British companies. Taiwan is already looking to adapt UK standards to regulate its own digital economy, its fintech industry and driverless vehicles. We are keen to engage with the Taiwanese authorities on broad economic reforms to improve the business environment, which I hope will lead to greater returns on investment and increased trade in both directions.
Will the Minister join me in praising the work of Taiwan NI—an organisation set up by, among others, a colleague of mine in the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Humphrey? It does great work among Taiwanese students and citizens living in Northern Ireland to promote Taiwan-Northern Ireland relations. That kind of interaction between students who come from Taiwan to places such as Queen’s University and Ulster University advances tremendously the understanding between Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman pointed that out. It is greatly to the credit of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it advances the relationship between the UK and Taiwan. I would not want the focus of this debate to be just on trade and investment co-operation—important though that is. We need co-operation to tackle crime and to promote educational connections and judicial and cultural exchanges, and those links will only be strengthened when direct China Airlines flights between London and Taipei resume in December.
I want to touch on a few issues that were brought up during the debate. On the issue of naval visits to Taiwan, I must stress that the UK’s policy is non-recognition, which means that Ministry of Defence Ministers, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and military assets cannot visit Taiwan. Doing so would imply recognition of Taiwan, which is not Government policy. However, we continue to develop strong links with Taiwan on Government priorities such as prosperity and the low-carbon agenda.
The UK’s position on the South China sea is long-standing and has not changed. We have very deep concerns about tensions and are committed to maintaining a peaceful maritime order under international law. We do not take sides, but we urge all parties in the region to settle disputes peacefully—ideally diplomatically but, if necessary, through arbitration. The UK Government remain committed to freedom of navigation and overflight.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked about President Trump’s now-notorious call to the Taiwanese Head of State. Our position on Taiwan has not changed since the call to President Tsai. The UK’s long-standing policy on the status of Taiwan has not changed at all. We enjoy strong but unofficial commercial and cultural ties. The long-standing policy is that the status of Taiwan has to be settled by the people on both sides of the Taiwanese straits. We call on all sides to continue to engage in constructive dialogue. There has been no change, either from within or as a result of external causes.
I will conclude in a moment or two. We have a bit more time—do not worry, I am not going to delay the House for too long, Mr Paisley—so I will let everyone into a little secret. Like a lot of MPs, I have connections with Taiwan and although I have not visited myself, I was about to do so when the election was called.
In the previous Parliament, I was vice-chairman for international affairs for the Conservative party, and like my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), I took the view that, as well as being a friend of China—Chinatown is in my constituency, and I have long-standing connections with the People’s Republic of China as a result—I should visit Taiwan. I was due to visit in September, but the election was called and I was thrust into a different office. I have had the chance in the past to meet the representative of the Taipei office in London and his team, and I have a great deal of respect for them. They also recognise that, unfortunately, our acquaintance has to go into cold storage for as long as I am a Minister—
Yes, it may not be very long at all—honestly, it is nice to get support on a cross-party basis on such important matters, isn’t it?
There is a lot of support here and—to be fair it is worth pointing out for the record—I have spoken with a couple of Labour MPs who wanted to come to the debate but had other engagements. They had been in Taiwan in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) made a robust point, but I think it is fair to say that there are friends across the House, and having that cross-party connection in place is a positive state of affairs for the relationship between the Taiwan and the UK.
Earlier, I omitted to say that a little earlier in the year, before the election, I visited Taiwan—it has been declared appropriately in the register—so may I recommend a visit to the Minister? It is one of the most fabulous countries to go to and my eyes were certainly opened. Conservative Members and perhaps all other Members hope that he will one day be able to visit officially as a Minister.
It is kind of my hon. Friend to tempt me in that direction. I could of course argue that I have already been to the country to which he refers—we recognise the People’s Republic of China—but perhaps that would be a bit mischievous.
In conclusion, Taiwan has—as has been pointed out—a thriving democratic system and a healthy economy. Its authorities are eager to play a responsible role in continuing to tackle global challenges. I hope that within the context of our restricting but certain policy we will be able to play our part to ensure that Taiwan’s voice is heard, in particular in those global bodies where its co-operation is important, transcending many of the other international disputes. The British Government will continue to strengthen our already close ties with the people of Taiwan, because so doing will best serve the interests of the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Mr Paisley, and I thank the Minister for his constructive remarks in response to the debate. I welcome the views of the official Opposition and the Scottish National party, and I welcome my hon. colleagues from across the House putting the case for strengthening relations economically, commercially and on security between the UK and Taiwan.
The reality is that Asia faces a challenge over the next few years, and has done so on security, economic and cultural interaction. With China assertive and looking outward far more, the future of all countries in Asia is paramount. Today we have rightly concentrated on our relations with Taiwan. We have had an excellent debate on how to strengthen our relations in future and on how to assist our friends in Taiwan to fulfil their place in the world, whether in the United Nations or through other roles.
There is clearly very strong support from across the House, in all parties, for strengthening relations between the UK and Taiwan, which means that, regardless of who is in government, we will see our friendship and our commercial relationship growing ever stronger. That is very important. We may have differences of opinion about our views on defence and other things, or indeed about our recognition of Taiwan as a country, but what we can build on is the shared values—and shared progress—not only across parties but between the UK and Taiwan.
I therefore invite you, Mr Paisley, to put the Question. We can look forward to further development of excellent relations between the UK and Taiwan in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered UK relations with Taiwan.