China has criticised the British government for sending the trade minister Greg Hands to Taiwan and said the UK must cease “sending the wrong signals” to pro-independence forces on the self-ruled island that Beijing regards as its territory.
Hands began a two-day visit to Taipei on Monday, during which he is scheduled to meet the democracy’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, and co-host the 25th annual UK-Taiwan trade talks.
The UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said the visit was aimed at boosting trade and promoting collaboration on green trade and supply chains. Britain has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it maintains economic and trade ties.
At a regular media briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said China “resolutely opposed” any form of official exchanges between Britain and Taiwan.
“We urge the British side … to stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan and cease sending wrong signals to separatist forces for Taiwan independence,” he said.
“There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inseparable part of China … The One China policy is the political foundation for developing Sino-British bilateral relations,” he said. “We should also warn the Taiwan authorities that colluding with external forces to seek independence is doomed to fail.”
In response to Beijing’s criticism, the UK prime minister’s spokesperson said: “We have a long-established trade relationship with Taiwan; it’s worth £8bn a year.
“These are annual talks between the UK and the ministry of economic affairs in Taiwan. We have a vibrant, longstanding relationship on areas like trade and culture, and this will form part of that engagement.”
Hands is the latest in a long line of foreign delegates to visit Taiwan in recent years, despite China’s opposition. After a visit in August by the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the People’s Liberation Army reportedly moved several warships and planes near to the median line – an unofficial border between China and Taiwan in the Taiwan strait.
The DIT said Taiwan was “an important trading partner for the UK” and Hands’ visit was “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 in a statement, adding that officials would explore trade in the fintech, food and pharmaceutical sectors to help UK firms export and invest in Taiwan, as well as promoting UK expertise in offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicles.
“Boosting trade with this vital partner is part of the UK’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, and closer collaboration will help us future-proof our economy in the decades to come,” it said.