Beijing, Nov 7 (PTI): China on Monday hit back at British Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands over his visit to Taiwan for talks with senior officials defying Beijing’s warnings not to have official contacts with Taipei, saying the UK is going back on its commitment to the one-China policy.
The two-day visit, which began on Monday, bears political significance as it’s the first trip by a high-level British official since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took office last month amid reports that he may toe a hardline against China.
The British minister’s visit to Taipei follows the August tour of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the first by an American top leader in 25 years – prompting Beijing to resort to large-scale unprecedented military drills in the Taiwan Strait, which included the firing of missiles over the self-ruled island.
China claims Taiwan as part of its mainland and its integration with the mainland is part of avowed objective of Chinese President Xi Jinping who was elected as the head of the ruling Communist Party of China for a record third term last month.
Much on the expected lines, Beijing reacted angrily to Hands’ visit, saying that it violates the one-China principle to which London is a signatory.
“There is only One-China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here Monday.
“China rejects any country having diplomatic ties or any official interactions with Taiwan,” he said.
The one-China principle is the political foundation for UK-China relations, he said.
The UK should “respect China’s position and stop official interactions with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan’s independent forces,” Zhao said.
He also warned Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headed by Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing-wen.
“We also make it clear to DPP authorities that any attempt to seek independence by soliciting external support is doomed to fail,” he said.
Sunak was expected to follow a strong policy towards China as he previously labelled it as one of “the biggest, long-term threats to Britain”, and promised to get tough on Beijing.
Hands would co-host the first in-person high-level trade talks with Taipei since the pandemic, “to boost trade and future-proof our economy through collaboration on green trade and supply chains”, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
First held in 1991, the UK-Taiwan trade talks in Taipei were conducted virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid-19.
The department said Hands would use the talks to tackle barriers to trade and promote British expertise in areas like offshore wind and hydrogen.
“Visiting Taiwan in person is a clear signal of the UK’s commitment to boosting UK-Taiwan trade ties. Like the UK, Taiwan is a champion of free and fair trade underpinned by a rules-based global trading system,” it said.
Hands also said that boosting trade with Taiwan was part of Britain’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific.
Closer collaboration would “help us future-proof our economy in the decades to come,” he said.
“I first visited Taiwan 31 years ago in 1991 and it’s been fantastic to see the growth of this dynamic, vibrant economy. I’m thrilled to be the first trade minister here post-pandemic and to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of trade talks,” the Post quoted him as saying.
During the trade talks, Innovate UK will sign a memorandum of understanding with Taipei’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, pledging to increase collaboration on technology and innovation.
This includes a USD 5.6 million funding commitment through 2025 and support to UK businesses via a bespoke innovation programme between the UK and Taiwan, the department said.
Hands was also expected to meet President Tsai.