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Lord Mayor’s Show: Taiwan

Volume 797: debated on Wednesday 1 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decision of the Lord Mayor’s Show 2019 to decline an application to participate by the representative office of the government of Taiwan.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as a member of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group.

My Lords, the lord mayor’s office is independent of central government so this is a decision for it. However, we continue to support Taiwan’s inclusion in matters which do not confer statehood upon Taiwan and to which it brings cultural, economic and educational value. The Lord Mayor’s Show falls within this category.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. This instance of China’s relentless campaign to deny Taiwan international recognition is petty; others are not. The exclusion of Taiwan from the World Health Assembly, in the age of SARS, could have potentially devastating global consequences. What are the Government going to do to help the people of Taiwan stand up to this unfair treatment which continues to emanate from China?

My Lords, that is not the Government’s view. When we were asked, we gave our opinion that Taiwan should be included in the Lord Mayor’s Show as it falls within the category that I have just articulated. We continue to support Taiwan’s membership of key organisations within the UN family, such as the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.

It is striking that this is not about recognising Taiwan as the Republic of China—the relationship between the People’s Republic and Taiwan is a matter for those two places—but about our relationship with an important trading and economic partner. Taiwan is also a very important partner in terms of the rule of law, liberal politics and human rights. Can the Minister tell the House what he will do to ensure that our relationship with Taiwan will not be affected by the actions of another Government?

My Lords, I agree that our relationship with Taiwan is best built on sound values. Therefore, shy of recognising Taiwan—which we do not—Taiwan’s future, as the noble Lord said, is a matter for China and Taiwan, on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and it is for them to come to a way forward. As I said in answer to the previous question, we are supportive of not only Taiwan’s presence in the Lord Mayor’s Show but its inclusion in various organisations on the world stage, and we will continue to articulate that. On a more general point, we will stand against human rights abuses wherever we find them.

My Lords, are there other examples where the City has rejected the advice of the Foreign Office on such matters?

I think in this case—or indeed in any other case where we are dealing with the private sector—our job is to provide advice. It is for a private sector company or an independent organisation to take a decision. That is one of the key freedoms we enjoy as a democracy, and I would stand up for it. It is for organisations to make independent decisions. As far as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is concerned, it will give the best advice available.

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group. On 31 March, two J-11 fighter jets of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intentionally crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, intruding upon a maritime boundary which both sides have abided by for many years, and as a result damaged the cross-strait status quo. It is evident that regional peace and stability are at stake. Does the Minister agree that decisions such as that of the lord mayor’s office are less than helpful to the Taiwanese position?

As I have already made clear, it is important that the Taiwanese and Chinese Governments continue to negotiate and to discuss matters of a bilateral nature. On the more general point the noble Lord makes about the Lord Mayor’s Show, I have already emphasised that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was very clear that in previous years Taiwan has attended the Lord Mayor’s Show and it was its view that that should continue to be the case.

Does the Minister agree that this is simply the latest example of some rather senseless bullying by the People’s Republic of China of airlines, universities and others? What is the FCO going to do to try to maintain our proper relationship with the flourishing democracy which is Taiwan?

As I have said already, in our diplomatic relations we have been clear that Taiwan is not an independent country. That is not a new position. It has been sustained over a number of years. The position of the United Kingdom, not just that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is that Taiwan is an important partner; for example, we continue to have a strong trading relationship, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins said. On the more general point about our relationship with China, China is an important strategic partner, but we do not shy away from raising important issues, including human rights. A recent example is what I said during the Human Rights Council: that where we see freedom of religion or human rights being abused, we will stand up for those who are being persecuted. We do just that with China and other member states.

My Lords, is there any suggestion that China penalises any active trading partner of Taiwan for having a relationship with both states?

We already have a stated position on Taiwan, and we continue to enjoy strong trading relations. That means that at times there are disagreements. As I have already said, we have disagreements on important human rights issues. Those disagreements are there. We air them at times privately, but there are occasions when we do so publicly. However, we continue to enjoy a strong strategic partnership with China.

My Lords, the Minister has made an interesting point about the difference in the Government’s position on representatives of Governments and on representatives of civil society, industry and so on in a country. Could the Government not at least encourage those responsible for the Lord Mayor’s Show to have conversations with Taiwan, making it absolutely clear that the representation of Taiwan will be welcome in the Lord Mayor’s Show if it is from civil society and the private sector?

As I have already said, and I am sure times have not changed since the noble Lord was a Foreign Office Minister, we pride ourselves on diplomacy and charm in encouraging people towards what we believe are the right decisions. However, the governance of the Lord Mayor’s Show is independent. We have given clear and unequivocal advice, and it is appropriate that organisations take decisions according to how they perceive moving forward. Our position on the Lord Mayor’s Show and other bodies is clear: Taiwan is an important partner and we will continue to encourage its partnership when it comes to issues of culture, trade and education.

My Lords, I had the privilege of leading a trade mission to Taiwan and it was evident that the route into the Chinese market for much of our financial services industry was with a Taiwanese partner or intermediary. Can the Minister make the City much more aware of the importance of that relationship and of the fact that, in anticipation of Brexit, taking this sort of supplicant position to a power such as China is not an appropriate way to build our future economy?

As someone who spent 20 years in the City of London, I never felt that it took supplicant positions. The City made some clear decisions based on its interests and it continues to do so. The role of government is to provide sound advice. I believe that we did so on this occasion and we will continue to do so in the future.