Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-chair of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Taiwan is the Ukraine of the Far East, and it behoves us to note the threats that it endures daily from its neighbours across the strait and its commitment to the democratic process and its democratic institutions. In the last 15 months, there has been an increase of 150% in military intrusions from the PRC over those recorded in 2020. Both the UK Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, as well as G7 leaders, have emphasised the importance of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, with specific reference to Taiwan, as set out in the integrated review and in communiqués.
The Minister for Asia, Amanda Milling, answering to a recent debate in the other place, affirmed that
“The UK has a clear interest in ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan strait. Without it, the prosperity and security interests of both the UK and our like-minded partners would … suffer.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/2/22; col. 1150.]
These are welcome words, as are the many shared endeavours that the Minister went on to mention, including increased trade, action against climate change, bilingual education, digital health technology and cultural exchanges. However, today I press the Minister further on the Government’s commitments to Taiwan and its flourishing democracy in the face of increased threats and sabotage of its industry and trade relations.
Taiwan is one of the five semiconductor producing countries in the world and supplies over 50% of the world’s high-end chips, used in the aerospace, bioscience and defence industries. It is a world leader in renewable energy and especially in the development of electronic vehicles. It has joined in the international sanctions imposed on Russia. The world also has much to learn from the success that Taiwan enjoyed in stemming the spread of Covid. These are all promising industries and policies that continue to need further investment. The efforts by the PRC to undermine Taiwan’s production capacity, whether this be in tourism, electronics or agriculture, should prompt a more regional approach to such coercion through trade agreements. Furthermore, Taiwan has submitted its application to the CPTPP, which would be to the advantage of this trade bloc, which has high regulatory standards, as we know. Taiwan hopes for the support of the UK after the UK has itself become a member. In this context, I ask the Minister whether the Government will provide this support and when they will sign and begin meaningful discussions on the bilateral investment agreement.
The US Taiwan Relations Act 1979 guarantees the provision of adequate defence equipment, which is extremely important in maintaining Taiwan’s credible self-defence capability. What contributions is the UK making towards this credible capacity in, for example, bolstering Taiwan’s navy and missile defence systems?
Taiwan is developing its technology on an impressive scale, and this supports the idea of some kind of shared technology network with other countries in the region, such as the US, Japan and South Korea. On her appointment, the Foreign Secretary referred to the notion of such a grouping to deal with issues such as climate change and, importantly, protection against cybercrime—has this idea been taken further? The benefit during peacetime is obvious, but so too is the protection that this network might provide in the event of further imminent threats from the People’s Republic of China.
The UK Prime Minister has himself acknowledged the global impact of events in Ukraine, which may be particularly significant for Taiwan. Following the tragic fall of Hong Kong, Taiwan is now the front line in defending democracy against China’s expanding authoritarianism. While Taiwan’s economic resilience may not be enough to deter further intrusions from the PRC, it commits those nations that hold such investments in the country to protect them robustly. How does the FCDO see Taiwan’s future in the face of increased military threats, not only in the strait but in the region more generally? How does the UK see the protection and strengthening of Taiwan economically and militarily as a key instrument in the declared pivot to the Indo-Pacific?
Due to events in Ukraine, we may find soon that words of encouragement and support are simply not enough. If we are serious about deterring such actions, we need to make strong, definite commitments to those countries that face authoritarian expansion in the immediate future.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, who has put the challenge extremely well. I endorse much of what she says.
When I was a junior Minister during the pandemic, extraordinary things happened, and I broke a great many ministerial precedents. However, one thing that I did not manage to do was put a call through to my opposite number in the Taiwanese department for health. Officials were extremely hesitant to make that happen and, despite my best efforts, I never made that telephone call, even though Taiwan had a huge amount to teach the British response to the pandemic. That is a personal example of an outdated, cautious approach to our dealings with Taiwan, one of the world’s most important democracies. That strategic ambiguity and climate of caution around our country’s engagement with Taiwan is suddenly looking out of date and dangerous. In the interests of time, I will not go into the details but we all know what I am talking about.
I echo the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and recommend five of my own easy-to-take measures with which the Government could demonstrate their commitment to Taiwan—commitments that might cause a small amount of discomfort but are essential for demonstrating the strong alliance between our two countries.
First, it is time that a Cabinet Minister went to Taiwan. We have had junior Ministers there since 1994, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I pay tribute to Greg Hands, who has been three times—once by cyberspace—but he is just a junior Minister. The USA has made Cabinet-level visits since 1994—I remember Alex Azar going, and he made a big impact. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Taipei on Tuesday. I should like to see someone such as Sajid Javid go to Taiwan in the very near future to talk to the Taiwanese about public health; it is the kind of measure from which we could learn a lot and would show our friendship.
Secondly, I pay tribute to the Minister and ministerial colleagues in the FCDO and elsewhere for their support for Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. But they are often blackballed by China and we therefore need to be creative. I recommend to the Minister that we look at the G7, at which Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea are invited guests, and the D10, where Indonesia, Poland and Spain are invited guests. Inviting Taiwan to attend those sessions is not within our gift but the British Government should certainly be pushing actively for that.
Thirdly, on security, the integrated review recognises that coercive economic measures are a real threat. I note the commitment in the recent communiqué with the Australian Government to work together to ensure that when coercive economic measures are put in place, Britain and Australia are linked together to support each other. We should be working equally hard with Taiwan in putting together the protocols to protect each other, particularly for Taiwan, and to bring about a deterrent for anyone thinking of trying it on.
Fourthly, I echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on CPTPP. Further expansion of the existing investment treaty into a bilateral investment treaty would be good. That should, in time, be expanded to a free trade agreement along the lines we have with New Zealand.
Fifthly, and lastly, on defence, the situation in Ukraine has shown that when NATO members such as Germany and Poland are affected, we are all affected. We know that the USA’s Taiwan Relations Act makes for the USA very strong commitments but we are not clear about the consequential commitments for the UK. I do not think we should be shy of thinking through those consequential commitments. In fact, there are very real benefits from having an earnest and documented discussion of that.
These are five tangible steps which are well within the gift of the Government. I would be enormously grateful if the Minister could commit to all five of them by the end of this Parliament, in order that we have a clear programme of activity to show our support to Taiwan.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for this important debate, particularly in these difficult times, when democracy in some parts of the world is challenged by military forces. The United Kingdom has a stable and sound relationship with Taiwan. It is in our interest to ensure the preservation of peace and stability across the strait and that China ends its coercion against Taiwan.
All democratic nations and those countries in and near the South China Sea must be concerned about the building of the base, which could affect peace and stability, and in particular the navigational facilities there. It is also clear that frequent excursions in invading the Taiwanese airspace is unacceptable. I have visited the coastal region and been shocked to see missiles pointing towards Taiwan.
I have visited this beautiful island on a number of occasions, and strongly recommend its national museum as being of particular interest. It has a fully functioning democracy and, having met the present and previous Presidents, I am impressed with the way its Parliament functions. The Liberal Democrats have a special relationship with the Democratic Progressive Party, the DPP; in fact, it is our sister party in power in Taiwan. I was at the inaugural function of President Tsai when she was elected. She knew David Steel, who was leading our delegation. Suffice to say that most of the conversation was about her time at the LSE, when Lord Steel was leading the Liberal Democrats.
I have a request to make of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. Let me declare my interest. I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty and have visited a number of countries to promote this cause. On my visit during President Ma’s time in office, and then during that of President Tsai, it was clear that Taiwan was working towards abolition of the death penalty. I want to ensure that Taiwan is now at a very advanced stage on this, and the Minister should open discussions towards this aim.
Let me explain why I say this now. It is some years now since Professor Roger Hood, emeritus professor of criminology at Oxford, produced his report on the abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan. We now have a report on the opinion of Taiwanese legislators on the death penalty. These legislators hold a particularly influential position and the study reveals that the majority of them would like to see the death penalty abolished. The risk of wrongful convictions, the abuse of human rights and a recognition that the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect were the main reasons cited by the legislators. These are the same reasons we advocated when abolishing the death penalty in this country. I have no doubt whatever that these are central to the work of the Minister at the Foreign Office.
I do not wish to cite the statistics reflected in this report. Suffice to say that a nudge at the top level would achieve this aim. I should be grateful for the Minister’s support.
My Lords, the House is greatly indebted to my noble friend Lady D’Souza for bringing this Question on Taiwan for debate today. I draw attention to the relevant all-party groups of which I am a member, and also my membership of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. I commend its work and that of Luke de Pulford on behalf of the people of China and Taiwan.
I draw a careful distinction between my huge admiration for Chinese people and civilisation and the infamies of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, which is responsible for so many depredations, from the mass slaughter of millions to the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen, the subjugation of Tibet, its disfigurement of democracy in Hong Kong, the genocide of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and the incarceration of journalists, lawyers, religious believers, artists and political dissidents; and which daily threatens the more than 23 million people of Taiwan.
In 2019, in Taiwan, I met Lam Wing-kee and the wife of Lee Ming-che. Lam had been imprisoned in China for selling books—including, I might add, a copy of 1984—and Lee Ching-yu described to me how her husband, a Taiwanese pro-democracy activist, had been arrested in 2017 while on a visit to China. He remains incarcerated to this day.
Is it any wonder that the people of Taiwan—a territory which has never been part of the People’s Republic of China—live in dread of a military invasion by the CCP? That apprehension is underlined by the illegal seizure of a sovereign state, accompanied by war crimes, in Ukraine by Putin, who, as we saw at the genocide Games, is a close ally of Xi Jinping? Of course, the greatest tragedy is that if “two systems, one country” had not been destroyed in Hong Kong, it could have offered enormous hope to Taiwan; instead of which, it demonstrates the deceit of the CCP in upending international treaties.
In a debate in July 2014, I urged the Government to increase our global efforts to strengthen democracy, not least via the BBC World Service, something the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have regularly raised with the Minister. I contrasted soft, or smart, power with
“a different kind of power, characterised by visceral hatred and unspeakable violence … a climate in which fragile peace and seedling democracies, from the China Sea to Ukraine, are at daily risk.”—[Official Report, 10/7/14; col. 292.]
Eight years later, in this very Room, I urged the Government to lead other democracies in recognising Taiwan,
“turning the tables on the CCP’s bullying posturing”,—[Official Report, 3/2/22; col. GC 308.]
and warned of the implications for Taiwan and many other seedling democracies if Russia invaded Ukraine.
Have we woken up to these new realities? I particularly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said about the importance of a Cabinet Minister visiting Taiwan. I hope our Minister, the Minister of State, who is hugely respected, will consider adding Taiwan to the list of the many places he journeys to. When will we press for the inclusion of Taiwan in international organisations and institutions, particularly the World Health Organization? Why are we not making a free trade agreement with Taiwan? We must stand in solidarity with Taiwan, which has a free people in a vibrant democracy. It threatens no one and believes in peaceful coexistence. As my noble friend said, authoritarianism is on the march. By standing with Taiwan, we will be leading other nations in defying the CCP.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady D’Souza on securing this debate at such a defining moment for global affairs. I also declare an interest as the co-chairman of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group.
I have had the honour of visiting Taiwan on many occasions, for business and as a politician, from 1972 onwards. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is a wonderful land and the home of countless kind, inspirational and creative people. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index, Taiwan now ranks as a leading democracy in Asia and the 11th worldwide. It also boasts the seventh-largest economy in Asia and the 21st globally. For the post-Brexit United Kingdom, it is a country with which we should be seeking closer ties.
In 1992, shortly after stepping down as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher travelled to Taiwan to celebrate its progress towards democratisation. However, following her death in 2013, and at the insistence of the Chinese Government, the Cabinet Office decided that Taiwan would not be permitted diplomatic representation at her funeral. Just two years later, Chinese President Xi Jinping was honoured with a full state visit to the United Kingdom.
We meet against the backdrop of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Xi has supported Putin’s campaign against allowing Ukraine to join NATO, one of Putin’s prime justifications for his current butchery. President Xi and Putin are increasingly aligned on many issues, and your Lordships can be sure that Beijing is following the horrific events in Ukraine with special interest.
The Chinese air force breached the median line of the Taiwan Strait 950 times in 2021, a 150% increase on the previous year. Taiwanese residents and businesses are subject to countless cyberattacks every day, with the overwhelming number suspected to emanate from China. Similarly, Putin’s Russia has long targeted Ukraine with relatively new forms of warfare, with Ukraine’s electricity grid and communications networks favoured as a means of damaging the country’s ability to function.
This is a short debate, and I will save the Minister the need to remind us that Her Majesty’s Government remain of the view that it is for Taiwan and China to resolve their differences. However, if the United Kingdom truly is the mother of democracies, surely it is our duty to stand strong against the bullying of independent states by aggressive regimes. I am proud of what our country is doing to support Ukraine in its darkest hour, but I say respectfully to the Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, stressed most ably, that the United Kingdom should also put much greater effort into deepening co-operation and partnership working with our freedom-loving friends in Taiwan. As a first step, Her Majesty’s Government should grant full diplomatic status to Taiwan and to Mr Kelly Hsieh, the excellent representative of Taiwan in the United Kingdom, giving him equivalence with the Chinese ambassador.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on securing this important debate. I have listened with great admiration to all the speeches so far. It is important to put on the record Taiwan’s commitment to human rights and democracy, its astonishing economic success and the friendship of its people and Government towards the West generally, and to us in Britain particularly.
During my years in this House, I have spoken often about relations with Taiwan. Until 2016 I was an officer of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group, latterly as its co-chair. I handed that role over to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, who I am delighted to follow in this debate, when I was appointed the British Government’s trade envoy to Taiwan. I shall speak briefly about trade today.
The top five products exported from the UK to Taiwan are beverages, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, cars, mechanical power generators, chemicals and scientific instruments. Last October, I supported the Minister for Trade Policy, Penny Mordaunt MP, at the annual trade talks with our Taiwanese counterparts and made great progress on market access in energy and offshore wind power, financial services, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and Scotch whisky. Taiwan was whisky’s third-largest market by value in 2021 and has a particular liking for single malts. Taiwan is also a top-six market for Scottish salmon.
I attended the trade talks in Taipei in 2018, when we signed the agreement that opened up the Taiwanese market for UK pork. Exports of this are likely to be worth £50 million over the five years from the date the market opened to us. We hope to make progress with lamb and organic products later this year.
There are many other sectors I could speak about if I had time. I will just mention one exciting initiative we are supporting: Taiwan’s bilingualism 2030 strategy to make English an official language. With great help from the British Council, a letter of intent between the British Office Taipei and the Taiwanese Ministry of Education has been signed, focusing on English-language education and assessment collaboration. It will create connections, strengthen the relations between British and Taiwanese people and lead to significant growth in UK-Taiwan trade and investment. I am particularly pleased that the English being learned by the Taiwanese is English English, not American English.
Finally, let us remember what was in the latest Freedom in the World report from the US-based Freedom House: out of 210 countries and territories around the world, Taiwan was in equal 17th place, with 38 points out of a maximum 40 for political rights and 56 out of 60 for civil liberties—one point ahead of the United Kingdom. Norway, Sweden and Finland received full marks in both categories. China, by contrast, was tied in 185th place with a score of nine points and rated as “not free”. It is obvious what lessons we draw from that.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for securing this debate. It is even more timely and relevant than we could have realised exactly four weeks ago, when a number of us here today debated in this very Room the threat to democracy from autocrats and kleptocrats. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inevitably raises concerns about the threat of China to Taiwan, which is also living in the shadow of an overbearing and menacing neighbour. That said, I do not believe that Taiwan will be the next Ukraine, as there are huge geographic, geopolitical, cultural and economic differences.
As we have heard, Taiwan’s democratic credentials are indeed impressive, moving up to eighth in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and first in the Asia-Pacific region. A liberal democracy, and world leader in gender equality in government, Taiwan also boasts a dynamic economy, agile industry and entrepreneurial zest. Yet the UK and especially the US must do more to support Taiwan, given the island’s contested status. As we know, the UK does not recognise Taiwan as a country nor maintain diplomatic relations, but we do lobby for its participation in international organisations, as an observer at the very least. Can the Minister inform us whether the UK is planning to step up such lobbying?
I ask this because the need for Taiwan, with its close cultural and economic relations with China, to fully participate in international organisations was demonstrated to devastating effect by the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan. As we now know, China was very slow to admit to person-to-person transmission—in fact, fatally slow—and it was Taiwan that first alerted the WHO on 31 December 2019. Its warning was largely ignored as it was not a member of the WHO, while China was not just a member but—how can I put it?—a highly influential one. The weeks of denial from China and dithering from the WHO in early 2020 tragically contributed to millions of deaths and trillions in the economic damage that ensued.
The need for transparency has never been greater. Russia and China share a brutal coalition of disinformation and we must do our utmost to support states and countries such as Taiwan and Ukraine, which share our respect for the truth and a belief that freedom of speech is a very basic human right.
My Lords, I think a theme is emerging. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has secured a very timely debate, as the noble Lord has just said. The Chinese leadership will be watching this current crisis. Putin claims that Ukraine belongs to Russia, while China claims Taiwan—autocracies threatening to swallow up democracies.
We know the dictum that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are seeing the fruits of that right now in Europe. We recall that Russia took Crimea and there was no prolonged international outcry. It has fought an eight-year war in the Donbass but the world paid little attention. We have seen democratic Hong Kong taken over, if more subtly than is happening in Ukraine. The international community as a whole did not come to the assistance of the people of Hong Kong, so we should take seriously China’s increasing intrusions into Taiwan’s airspace. Are these intimidating measures or do they signal something more?
Few thought that Russia would really aim to take the whole of Ukraine; we cannot be sanguine here. China is assiduous in making sure that no country recognises Taiwan. I note the Government’s position on this, which reflects the concerns at China’s potential reaction—not Taiwan’s interests or those of the wider world.
In China, as in Russia, you have a leader who has supreme power, who wishes to leave a legacy, who feels that their country has been undervalued, who is no doubt more savvy than the brutal Putin and who always applies the lessons from the break-up of the Soviet Union but, nevertheless, is someone who should not be underestimated. We already see that the economic sanctions rightly hurting Russia will also have an effect on us. What happens to Taiwan is also likely to affect us. It is therefore not only right but in our interests that we pay attention.
As others have mentioned, Covid is a stark reminder of how interconnected we all are; not only did a disease travel around the world in weeks and months but fighting that pandemic affected the supply chain so that even the availability of toys at Christmas in the United Kingdom was affected two years later. Taiwan, sitting alongside China, was already acutely aware of that interconnectedness and, in the case of the pandemic, was far better prepared than most other countries, as we have heard. That is another reason why it should be in international groupings. It would benefit from such engagement but so too would we. What are we doing to facilitate that? What progress are we making at the WHO?
Our need for a strong, rules-based international order is overwhelming. Our need to be vigilant is crystal clear. That must include the present and future of Taiwan.
My Lords, there is no turning back. The genie is out of the bottle, with the global community having arrived at a crossroads. Accountable governance is showing itself to be sacrosanct and resilient, with democratic ideals that will be defended in a world that will not stand idle nor allow encroachment. Self-serving government by the few, for the few, is reaching the end of the road. Military dominance alone will never prevail in our interdependent world. Russians will know that they have been taken down a cul-de-sac in a world that can cripple a country without the use of lethal force and weapons. China should be encouraged to reflect carefully before it takes the world to the abyss over Taiwan.
During his closing remarks in the debate on Ukraine the other day, the Minister observed:
“Blessed are the peacekeepers”.—[Official Report, 25/2/22; col. 523.]
In Latin, it is “Beati pacifici”; it is the motto of my family, coincidentally. A bridge must be opened to allow for an exit mechanism—a face-saving bridge, if you will. It is being suggested that China could become the Ukraine peacemaker, with the ability to pull Russia in. Nothing would be more welcome at this terrible hour.
While too much is often expected from the United Nations, the Security Council may in part be the problem. Fundamentally, the United Nations is supposed to keep us safe. It has not worked. Urgent reform is required. It needs change. In a world where shared resources and shared responsibilities must become the norm, no single member should be allowed to manipulate the process for self-serving national purposes, yet in its current form, that is exactly what the UN allows. At the very least, majority decision-making is now an imperative. If that be a challenge too far—remembering that both the United Nations and the League of Nations before it came into existence in response to wars that changed the global status quo—the alternative is to now consider a successor to the United Nations that creates a process fit for tomorrow’s world and places world preservation and co-existence first.
My Lords, this is a very timely debate, for which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, against the background of increased military activity around Taiwan, as noted by a number of noble Lords. I declare an interest, having visited Taiwan three times, as declared in the register at the time. I have been privileged to meet President Tsai Ing-wen and former President Ma twice. I have nothing but respect for both, and for Taiwan’s entrepreneurial and intelligent people. I also commend Taiwan’s excellent response to the Covid pandemic, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and others.
As we have heard, Taiwanese-British links in, among other things, wind power, education, cultural exchange and even Scotch whisky, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, are remarkable and growing. Taiwan has a thriving civil society and democracy. Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for the others that have been tried. He also said that to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. We are witnessing a deplorable, awful tragedy unfolding in Europe, in Ukraine, which once more underlines how conflict should never be resolved by force.
We should never forget that in war, the greatest casualties are always innocent civilians. During the Korean War, in the early 1950s, which I studied a long time ago for my doctoral thesis, 2.5 million Korean civilians died—10% of the entire pre-war population. It was during that war that the US Seventh Fleet moved to protect what was then Formosa and was deployed to the Formosa Strait, as it was then called.
Of course, truth is the first casualty in war. War is not only about military assault but increasingly about disinformation and hybrid warfare. Democracy and freedom of speech are under attack across the globe as never before. Let us work together peacefully to preserve it while we still can.
My Lords, I also declare an interest. I have visited Taiwan on a number of occasions, both through invitations by the Government of Taiwan and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, indicated, through the auspices of the All-Party Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on securing this timely debate. The context, as my noble friend Lady Northover indicated, is a time of great sensitivity within the region and, indeed, the world.
As my noble friend Lord Dholakia indicated, in the past, my friend and former colleague Lord Steel of Aikwood would have contributed to this debate. I recall the very frequent meetings we had in this Parliament when I worked for him, 25 years ago, about the establishment of the DPP, one of the region’s first proper democratic and liberal parties, which is now the governing party. President Tsai is also a beacon for democracy in the region for upholding liberal democratic principles. In 2015, Lord Steel received the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon from the President of Taiwan. My noble friend Lord Foster was there—I think his role was to carry it back for him.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, indicated, relations with Taiwan are deep and should be deeper. Indeed, as has been referenced, Taiwan was a conspicuous leader in the global response to Covid. A very good university friend of mine and his family live in Taiwan and I know at first hand about the immediate response, with the use of technology, proper test and trace, and community action. The noble Lord was very frank, and I commend him for being honest with the Grand Committee, that it was an error that we did not communicate very strongly and share those experiences. I hope the Minister will be able to say that we learned from that experience and that we will not see this repeated.
With my international trade spokesman hat on, I have tried on a number of occasions to have Trade Ministers develop much stronger relations with Taiwan, particularly in the context of what we saw with the Taiwanese delegation to COP in Glasgow, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said. I commend him on his work as an envoy. We saw the very strong and great opportunities for renewable technology in particular, as two island nations with immense opportunities for tidal and wave power.
As vice-chair of the Scotch Whisky All-Party Parliamentary Group, I sometimes find it difficult to come to terms with scotch leaving our shores, but the Taiwanese are an appreciative and very valuable market— the third-highest for value in the world. As an export, it is also enormously important for UK soft power and our culture, standards and tourism.
As has been referenced in this debate, this is an enormously tense time, and the UK needs to be clear in its public statements, with no ambiguity, that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who stand for the values that we stand for in Europe. As my noble friend Lady Northover said, the world and the UK can both benefit from greater co-operation with Taiwan. In many respects, it is itself a brilliant star for democracy in the region, and we should say very loudly that we support it.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for initiating this debate and for her excellent introduction.
Taiwan has become a democratic success story—a beacon for others to follow—but, today of all days, we must recognise that that journey was painful and, at times, slow. In considering how we can best support Taiwan in its development of democracy, I ask the Minister what recognition the UK has given to the role of civil society, a key ingredient for the protection of human rights. In visiting Taiwan, I have personal experience of meeting LGBT groups campaigning for same-sex marriage there—this was a successful campaign that would not, in my opinion, have been successful without the engagement of civil society.
With the CPTPP, the region is a focal point for negotiation and important to the UK’s prosperity. An enhanced trade partnership between the UK and Taiwan would be strong evidence of the UK’s commitment to a values-based trade policy. The current tensions across the Taiwan Strait require all liberal democracies to increase their support for Taiwan. China’s recent military flights towards Taiwan and its attempts to push for Taiwan’s international isolation should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Of course, the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has argued for a peaceful and constructive dialogue between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain today what the UK has been doing to facilitate and encourage such dialogue.
As we have heard in this debate, although our current focus is on Ukraine, we should not forget that the pandemic, climate change and food insecurity are global issues that the international community must address collaboratively. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, the experience and voice of Taiwan’s 24 million people should not be ignored. Although the UK and Taiwan have no formal diplomatic relationships, the ties between us reflect the values that we share. In a week where Taiwan has joined the international effort to sanction Russia, it is clear that there are further areas of co-operation for us to explore.
My Lords, I join others in expressing gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for securing this important debate on this date. I also recognise the important contribution that she has made in her role as vice-chair of the APPG. I of course thank other noble Lords for their very insightful and detailed contributions.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, we are meeting during a moment in history, where there is a real challenge to the international world order. The organisations that have kept peace, including the United Nations, are under the severest of challenges, not least from Russia, a P5 member. Very shortly in your Lordships’ House, we will again debate the specific issue of sanctions and their impact on Russia.
I share the concern expressed by a number of noble Lords—including the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who speaks with great insight on these issues—that when there is one aggressor in the world, another watches with great interest what the international community does. I also recognise that, when Crimea was annexed, it was very clear that the response of the international community very quickly assumed a new sense of what was defined as normal. I very much welcome the strong contributions and support for the people of Ukraine from across your Lordships’ House and beyond. We will continue to work in a co-operative manner to ensure that that message is given not just to Russia but to any other aggressor around the world who is watching to see what the international community may do.
The noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Rogan, are right: Taiwan is an important democratic partner in the world to the United Kingdom. Its journey has been remarkable, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, since its first free and fair election just over 25 years ago. Taiwan has an independent media and an energetic civil society, as the noble Lord reminded us. We of course recognise and welcome its decision on the importance of ensuring equality for all in all elements of society. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, also reminded us of the strength of democracy and of civil society. We share common ground in many areas, including Indo-Pacific security, which my noble friend Lord Bethell referred to, and prosperity, climate action and global health. Our relations are built on an increasingly wide range of interests, be they economic, scientific or educational, which were rightly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Truscott.
I have listened carefully to what was said about engagement from the United Kingdom, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Bethell. Our right honourable friend Greg Hands has visited Taiwan often in his capacity as Trade Minister. Equally, noble Lords will be aware that the UK’s unofficial relationship with Taiwan is unique in our standing on the world stage and international relations. We are not represented by an embassy in Taiwan, rather by the British Office Taipei. I assure noble Lords that our team there drives forward our important relationship with Taiwan.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others mentioned engagement at a more senior level, or from Ministers at the FCDO; our position on ministerial engagement remains unchanged. However, that does not limit us to not representing the interests of Taiwan when it comes to the global stage. I will come on to that in a moment.
Before I do that, the noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady D’Souza, in her opening remarks, referred to the question of the current up-front tensions and the increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait. I assure the noble Baronesses and my noble friend Lord Bethell that we are in regular contact with our close partners about the importance of stressing peace and stability in the strait. During our presidency of the G7, the Foreign and Development Ministers’ communiqué in May 2021 underscored
“the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”,
and reiterated that Ministers
“encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have also made clear that the numerous Chinese military flights that have taken place near Taiwan over recent weeks and months are not conducive to the regional peace and stability that we all desire.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and my noble friend Lord Bethell raised the issue of the CPTPP. As a non-member, we are not commenting on the specifics of other economies’ interests in the agreement. This is of course a group of economies that promote free and fair trade, and members are required to meet high standards. Therefore, that issue is very much for the membership, but I acknowledge that this remains an important area of interest for your Lordships.
Many noble Lords rightly mentioned the importance of trade. I recognise the invaluable role of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, as trade envoy. He has given exemplary service to our country in strengthening ties. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that we are strengthening our relationship and I was delighted that my dear friend the right honourable Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Trade, co-chaired the talks held in October 2021. Those talks deepened the UK and Taiwan’s economic and commercial partnerships across a range of areas and saw progression on market access ambitions in a number of sectors which many noble Lords mentioned, including energy, offshore wind power, financial services, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and of course Scotch whisky. As a teetotaller, I must bow to the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, but I am sure that the quality of whisky is excellent—I will go no further on that point. I assure noble Lords that the Department of International Trade holds annual ministerial talks with Taiwan. As I said, those of last October made real progress on market access in key sectors.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and others rightly mentioned the importance of climate. I assure noble Lords that the UK and Taiwan are partners on climate action, increasingly sharing expertise on floating offshore wind and multi-use port development. We collaborate on skills and workforce planning for the renewable energy sector. UK businesses support Taiwan’s ambition to increase its proportion of renewable energy to 20% by 2025. I hope the noble Baroness recognises the importance of us encouraging these efforts, of which we have seen results, with more than 30 of our offshore wind companies having set up operations in Taiwan.
Last year, the third UK-Taiwan energy dialogue promoted our expertise in decarbonisation and offshore wind. It agreed new areas for co-operation, including Taiwan’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, our leading innovation centre for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy, also signed an agreement with Taiwan’s top research institute to promote new partnerships. In my role as Minister with responsibility for relations with India, I have seen its capacity; it is a leading element of British technology in offshore wind.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bethell, raised digital and tech. We are keen to build on our flourishing science and technology co-operation with Taiwan. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly talked about learning from each other. Taiwan produces most of the high-performance semiconductors that drive our digital economy. It also plays a critical role in the technology supply chains that underpin global markets and invests heavily in research and innovation, including through MediaTek’s research centres in Cambridge and London.
We have also strengthened co-operation on education. Taiwan has set out plans to become a bilingual society in Mandarin and English by 2030. The issue of soft power has often come up. I am sure noble Lords will join me in recognising and welcoming that, through the important role of the British Council, the UK is a natural partner to help further advance English language education, teaching and assessment.
The noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Faulkner, and others talked of the importance of human rights; I acknowledge the important role that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has played in this respect on previous visits to Taiwan. We are bolstering co-operation between the British Office and the Taiwanese National Human Rights Commission on democratic principles and values. We will continue to focus on doing more in this respect.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and my noble friend Lord Bethell talked of the integrated review. We are of course very much focused on the growing influence of China in this respect. We will work with all key partners in ensuring the strength of our work and operations on the ground in Taiwan, as well as in the Indo-Pacific region.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the death penalty. This of course remains a focus. We are consistent on this issue and continue to raise it with the Taiwanese at the highest level.
We also encourage Taiwanese engagement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in England and Wales. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has developed important partnerships with Taiwanese stakeholders, including those emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins: civil society groups, universities, political parties and think tanks. Through this work, we continue to deepen our engagement and co-operation with Taiwan in support of democracy.
The noble Lords, Lord Londesborough and Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Bethell raised the important issue of our international support for Taiwan. I assure noble Lords that we are working hard with our partners to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations, as a member where statehood is not a prerequisite and as an observer or guest where it is. For example, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that in 2021, for the first time, we named Taiwan in the UK’s national speech at the World Health Assembly and made the case, alongside like-minded countries, that Taiwan’s inclusion benefits global health. That includes Taiwan’s meaningful participation in ongoing technical meetings, allowing its experts to access and participate in relevant facilities and virtual formats, as well as information exchange platforms.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lord Bethell talked about the importance of learning from the pandemic. We want to learn from Taiwan’s leading example in tackling Covid-19; it rightly won the world’s admiration for its assured response, based on its experience. This is a two-way process. We have facilitated expert-level dialogues between UK health experts and the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, and will be taking forward plans this year for a UK-Taiwan expert health dialogue.
Finally, the UK’s long-standing position on Taiwan has not changed, and we have a strong and thriving relationship. Enduring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is a matter not just of UK interest but of global concern. We will continue to work with all international partners to discourage any activity that undermines the status quo. We will also continue to press for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations. As we have seen from the debate today, it is not just the UK but the world that will benefit from continued engagement with Taiwan, as a thriving democracy and important economic partner.