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House of Lords Hansard
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17 September 2020
Volume 805

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the presence of the Chinese Air Force in Taiwan’s airspace; and what steps they are taking to support the independence of that country.

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My Lords, the United Kingdom is concerned by any activity that risks destabilising the cross-strait status quo. All sides should refrain from taking provocative actions and resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue. Our long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed; we have a strong, unofficial relationship with Taiwan based on dynamic commercial, educational and cultural ties.

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I thank the Minister for his response. China clearly rejects international rules and values, as evidenced by events in Hong Kong, on the Sino-Indian border and in the South China Sea, and, most recently, by its repeated aggressive incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. Does not the UK’s reluctance to provide Taiwan with overt political, diplomatic and trade support indicate tolerance for China’s expansionist policies, with particular reference to Taiwan?

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My Lords, we remain very strong in ensuring that, on the basis I have already outlined, we continue to strengthen our wide range of exchanges with Taiwan, including in relation to trade. Where the recognition of a state is not a prerequisite to any involvement or engagement in international bodies, we have stood up for the right of Taiwan to be part of those discussions—we are very much in favour of that.

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Will my noble friend the Minister condemn this further blatant act of aggression by the communist regime in China of threatening its neighbours and stealing islands in the South China Sea? Will he work with all other free, democratic nations to strengthen the military commitment to Taiwan and make it clear that Taiwan is an independent country and not part of the People’s Republic of China?

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My Lords, as I have already outlined, we have repeatedly stood up on the basis of our relationship with Taiwan. On the actual challenges that Taiwan faces in the context of China, we consider that the Taiwan issue is one to be settled peacefully by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Again, I reiterate to my noble friend that we call out where there are issues of disagreement with China, and anything that seeks to destabilise the current status quo in the Taiwan Strait is a matter of concern for Her Majesty’s Government.

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My Lords, increasingly China is exercising its economic, military and political influence, as has been mentioned, in the South China Sea, India, Australia and of course Hong Kong, and in some nations in Africa and Latin America. Is it not time that there was a joint meeting of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom to agree a joint policy towards China before there is a horrible incident?

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My Lords, there are many areas of concern, which I have outlined from the Dispatch Box, in China’s recent behaviour and its exercising particular policies and programmes within the context of the South China Sea, to which the noble Lord referred. We have discussed several times in the Chamber, and I am sure will continue to, the recent concerns we have had over the actions it has taken through the security law in Hong Kong and the continued issue of human rights in mainland China, particularly with regard to the Uighurs. These will remain the subject of discussions with our allies, close friends and partners, as the noble Lord suggests.

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My Lords, the continued campaign to isolate Taiwan by the People’s Republic is limited not just to economic and military issues. There is, obviously, the response by the WHO. Of course, at the time of this pandemic, it is really important that Taiwan is able to input its response into the WHO. We need to ensure that this campaign of isolation does not continue. While I am on the subject of the WHO, what further has the Minister done to raise with it the clear evidence of forced organ harvesting in China? Will the UK argue for an end to self-assessment and a move towards independent verification?

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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, concerns have been raised with the World Health Organization on the issue of organ harvesting. I know the noble Lord is aware that the evidence does not comply with action in this regard, but I am sure that we will return to those discussions.

On the initial question about the World Health Organization and World Health Assembly, we continue to lobby in that respect. This is an organisation where the criteria that I outlined earlier about statehood not being a prerequisite applies. Given the performance of Taiwan in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, I think that it has an important contribution to make in this regard.

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My Lords, the US Mission to the UN has tweeted that the UN

“was founded to serve … all voices”

in the world, and that

“Barring … Taiwan … is an affront not just to the … Taiwanese people, but to UN principles.”

Does the Minister agree?

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My Lords, as I have just said in my previous answer, we regard the relationship with Taiwan as an important one bilaterally. Equally, we believe that Taiwan has a role to play in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite. In the current pandemic of Covid-19, Taiwan’s response shows that it can make a valuable contribution. Therefore, we hope that in November, for example, at the World Health Assembly, it is allowed to attend as an observer.

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My Lords, this country has recognised the Government in Beijing as the legitimate authority in China since January 1950, with a very distinctive status, as the Minister has acknowledged, for Taiwan, which should be discussed peacefully between the authorities in Taipei and those on the mainland. I am glad to hear about the Minister’s lobbying in connection with the World Health Organization. Would he care to comment on this pattern of marked aggression by the current Chinese Government, which has sought to limit options for people at home and abroad and is so damaging?

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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to raise the importance of a peaceful discussion on the issue of Taiwan between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. I agree with him. Increasingly we have seen human rights issues where China is concerned, and I have spoken on that from the Dispatch Box. Our relationship with China is a strategic one, but that does not prevent us from calling out human rights abuses when they occur.

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My Lords, does the Minister accept that any representations that the UK makes in relation to the violation of Taiwan’s airspace by the PRC exemplify the unnecessary weakening of the UK’s authority and soft power brought about by the Government’s cavalier attitude to the admitted breach of international law by their introduction of the internal market Bill, which seeks to alter the provisions of the withdrawal agreement entered into with the European Union and signed by the Prime Minister?

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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s latter point, I think my right honourable friend the Prime Minister clarified the intent behind the internal market Bill. On the substance of the noble Lord’s question in general, we continue to defend the rights of people around the world, including those in China, where human rights abuses occur and where there are international agreements, as we have talked about before. On the agreements between China and the United Kingdom on Hong Kong, we will continue to lobby to ensure that “one country, two systems” is sustained going forward.

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My Lords, I recently had the pleasure of visiting Taiwan with the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. I found there a proud, flourishing, democratic country, constantly bullied and threatened by China. Inexplicably, the UK does not recognise Taiwan. What steps have the Government actually taken to remonstrate with China over the recent unprovoked belligerence, and all the other petty measures that it regularly takes to try to intimidate its neighbour?

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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness about the vibrancy of the democracy. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary congratulated the president on her election at the time. I share the noble Baroness’s concern: whether we are talking about Taiwan or Hong Kong or mainland China, these are deeply concerning issues and we continue to raise them bilaterally, and where necessary in multilateral fora, to ensure that the issues can be addressed quite directly.

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My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is united in its condemnation of China’s incursions into Taiwanese airspace, which are clearly acts of provocation. Have Her Majesty’s Government made their opposition to these actions clear to the Chinese ambassador in London? What consideration has been given to supporting Taiwan in strengthening its military defences as a means of demonstrating our revulsion at Beijing’s arrogant aggression?

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My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord on any attempt to impact the status quo. I say again what I said before: the issue of Taiwan is one to be settled peacefully for both sides. It is important for China to sustain and retain its objective of settling any disputes with Taiwan in a peaceful manner and in the interests of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

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My Lords, the time allocated for this Question has elapsed.

Sitting suspended.