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Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what (1) diplomatic, and (2) practical, assistance they are providing to the government of Taiwan; and what plans they have to formally recognise Taiwan as an independent sovereign state.

My Lords, the United Kingdom’s long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed. We have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but a strong unofficial relationship based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties. We regularly lobby in favour of Taiwan’s participation in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite, and we make clear our concerns about any activity that risks destabilising the cross-strait status quo. We have no plans to recognise Taiwan as a state.

I thank the Minister for his sympathetic response. President Xi has made it clear that “one country, two systems” is the plan for Taiwan, and the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 has been mentioned as a possible deadline. Will the Government consider taking small but significant steps and work with other like-minded nations less susceptible to Chinese influence to clarify and entrench Taiwan’s de facto independence? Such steps might specifically include inviting Taiwan as a guest to G7 meetings, lobbying for membership of the OECD as well as of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and considering Cabinet-level ministerial visits to Taiwan.

My Lords, while noting what the noble Baroness said, I assure her that we continue to work with like-minded partners, particularly on participation for Taiwan in those organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite. Those include the World Health Organization. We also believe that Taiwan has an important role to play in the spheres of education and climate change.

My Lords, Taiwan has been preparing for a pandemic since the SARS epidemic in 2003. As a result, it has been able to tackle the terrible ravages of Covid-19 with great success. But at the World Health Assembly in May, the attendees, including us, were unable to learn about the methods of its success because Taiwan’s attendance as an observer was blocked by China. Will my noble friend please assure me that the diplomatic efforts of the UK will be used to try to prevent such a blocking from happening in the future?

My Lords, I share my noble friend’s disappointment and concern. As I have already said, we believe that Taiwan has an important role to play, particularly in how it has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, we continue to lobby for its participation in meetings such as those convened by the World Health Organization.

My Lords, can we raise the case of Lee Ming-che, a Taiwanese pro-democracy activist arrested in China and given a five-year prison sentence for posts on social media calling for democratic reforms? His wife, whom I have met, says that he is literally forced to eat rotten food and is denied prison visits. Following the imposition of the new security law in Hong Kong, what does this case say about the future of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, and in mainland China?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing this case to my attention. I assure him that we are monitoring it through our embassy in Beijing. While we have not raised it with Chinese counterparts, we regularly make known our concerns about the increasing restrictions on civil and political rights and freedom of expression in China. We do the same in Hong Kong.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as the Government’s trade envoy to Taiwan. Will the Minister celebrate with me the 30% increase in trade between Britain and Taiwan over the past three years, and congratulate President Tsai Ing-wen and her Government on not just their triumphant re-election earlier this year in a fair and free contest but on their management of the Covid-19 crisis—that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay; there have been 447 cases and just seven deaths out of a population of 23.8 million—and their generosity in donating 2 million face masks to the UK? I hope that the Minister will continue to do all he can to ensure that Taiwan is admitted to the WHO so that the whole world can learn from its success and share its expertise.

My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s view of the positive elements of the relationship with Taiwan. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary congratulated President Tsai on her victory.

My Lords, when the national security law was imposed on Hong Kong, 53 countries supported China on it at the UN Human Rights Council. Only 27 countries, including only half of EU states and no state in Asia, Africa or South America, supported us. Now that we have left the EU, how are we building a strong alliance to defend Taiwan against any aggression?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise this concern. I agree with her figures. As Human Rights Minister, I worked on that proposal. There is much more work to be done but I assure her that we work very closely with European partners, particularly on Hong Kong, and share common interests when it comes to Taiwan.

My Lords, as has already been stated, there was hope that perhaps “one country, two systems” might have been a way of unlocking the Taiwanese issue which has been a problem for so many years. Recent events in Hong Kong show that that was a chimera. We have real problems now with the way China is behaving towards Hong Kong. Chinese behaviour and the statement by Xi Jinping, possibly encouraged by the world’s focus on the Wuhan virus, must be confronted. Does the Minister agree that Taiwan must be shielded and that one way of doing that is its recognition by as many of the G20 as possible? That would send a very strong message to Xi Jinping that the way he is behaving is not helping anyone, least of all China.

My Lords, the Government’s position remains that the issue of Taiwan is to be settled by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. As I said already, we continue to lobby for Taiwan’s participation in key organisations where it has a pivotal role to play.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the answers he has given, which suggest that we are very well disposed towards Taiwan. However, that is only one element. In the UK, we have seen the City of London withdraw its invitation to Taiwan to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Show and British Airways rewrite its destination listings so that Taiwan and, indeed, Hong Kong, are listed under China. Does my noble friend agree that we should be giving organisations such as the City and British Airways every support to resist this pressure from China, which is quite improper?

My Lords, individual companies and organisations will make their own decisions. The United Kingdom continues to acknowledge Taiwan. Whenever we categorise Taiwan we do so under the designation of country or region, and we will continue to do so. Individual companies will make their own decisions.

My Lords, as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Taiwan and having visited Taiwan on many occasions, I find it a nation which is a great stable democracy. Can the Government of the United Kingdom now consider improving high-level exchanges with Taiwan? For example, are the President of Taiwan, the Vice-President and the Foreign Minister banned from coming to the United Kingdom because of their political positions or are they banned as individuals?

My Lords, I have already said that we continue to engage with Taiwan. The most recent visit was by a Trade Minister, so we engage with Taiwan at ministerial level.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether it is the Government’s policy to achieve a bilateral trade deal between the UK and Taiwan, as urged by the Foundation for Independence, a think tank very close to senior figures in this Government?

My Lords, we continue to work on important common themes with Taiwan, and trade is one of them. Obviously my colleagues at the Department for International Trade will continue to see how we can further strengthen our ties with Taiwan.