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Evidence Session On Taiwan | In Committee : 16th Nov 2021

Evidence Session On Taiwan | In Committee : 16th Nov 2021

It was agreed by all witnesses that there is room for much closer relations between the UK and Taiwan. Michael Reilly described UK-Taiwan relations as “cordial but not substantive”. A number of reasons were given for this:

Witnesses:

  • Michael Reilly – Former British Representative to Taiwan and Member, Advisory Board Member at the Global Taiwan Institute
  • Dr Alessio Patalano – Professor of War and Strategy in East Asia at King’s College London, and Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange
  • Jason Hsu – Former Taiwanese Legislator; Tech Entrepreneur

Summary:

The perception in Whitehall that China will respond. This is wrong and it was argued that as long as statehood was not a factor, there is much more the UK could be doing. Michael Reilly said there was an “institutional state of mind” in the FCDO but there is nothing to stop the UK doing more with Taiwan.

It was noted that Taiwan and the TRO in the UK could push a lot harder for deeper ties than they currently do.

It was agreed that there was no reason why the TRO could not be put on a par with the Hong Kong office and given greater status here in the UK. New Zealand is one country that has done this and signed a free trade agreement. There were no consequences from China.

Michael Reilly raised the example of Singapore as the country that deals with Taiwan the best. He noted that they have troop and air force based in Taiwan, a free trade agreement, and a long-term consistent stance on Taiwan. He said this is the model to aim for.

He said the UK should increase its diplomatic footprint in Taiwan, stop sending diplomats to Beijing first. The UK needs to think about population and economic size rather than a small island on the other side of the world.

It was noted that there should be more and greater exchanges between the UK and Taiwan at an academic level and in high-tech business areas like semi-conductors.

Stewart McDonald raised the issue of the COP26 Taiwan Day and the Lord Provost of Glasgow dropping out. Michael Reilly (former British Representative) put the Chinese Foreign Ministry in context and said protesting against Taiwan is just what they do. He said there would have been no consequences.

He also said in his view, the decision at the FCDO to tell the Lord Provost not to attend would have been taken at Ministerial level, although possibly in a hurry and just signing off advice. It was agreed that the wider goals of COP26 would have been the priority.

Stewart McDonald noted that the Chinese Consulate didn’t write to SNP MPs and Peers. This suggests they are trying to paint Taiwan as separatists in the same vein.

This is the first Parliamentary session I am aware of where questions were asked about formal diplomatic recognition and what would happen if the Foreign Secretary visited Taiwan. Michael Reilly said the UK Ambassador would be thrown out of China, the Chinese one here recalled, and possibly a minor consulate in China closed until the UK repented. It was also noted that Taiwan wasn’t seeking formal recognition

The question of when China might invade Taiwan was asked.

It was agreed that 2027 was the date when invasion would become a viable option for China, but that didn’t mean it would happen. There was discussion about other non-military treats such as economic embargoes.

Michael Reilly said he didn’t think an invasion would happen, but other coercive tactics would be used.

When asked what the UK should do, the consensus was that the UK should take up the slack in Europe along with NATO to allow more US troops to go to the region. The UK also needs to give consistent and clear messages to China starting now. No more strategic ambiguity.

It was noted that Taiwan needed to increase military capabilities, improve reserves, and make the public less complacent. This needs to be an issue in Taiwan not just something that comes up at elections.

The prospect of a free trade deal was raised. Michael Reilly said China is heavily dependent on Taiwan for trade and has no objections to others trading with Taiwan. They may complain but would do little.

He argues getting Taiwan into CPTPP is more important than a bilateral trade deal as most trade between UK and Taiwan is tariff-free anyway.

Alessio Patenelli mentioned renewable energy and offshore wind and also education and the opportunities coming from Taiwan’s bilingual ambitions.

Jason Hsu stressed the opportunities around semiconductors and related new technologies.

Taiwan’s COVID-19 successes were raised but it was noted that cultural differences and a greater willingness for collective responsibilities on things like masks helped. It was noted that Taiwan’s vaccine roll-out had been slow without mention of Chinese vaccine diplomacy.

It was asked how to get Xi Jinping to walk back on his ambitions for Taiwan. Michael Reilly stressed continuity of messaging from all UK visits and other allies to say any changes in the status quo will have implications for global security and bilateral relations.

Dr Alessio Patalanosaid XI would need to have an alternative narrative to sell to the Chinese people that looked like a success. He said this would need to be in place by 2030 ideally.

On Taiwan’s involvement with international organisations, the question of which party was in power in Taiwan was established as a key factor. It was also noted that statehood was still China’s key issue.

Witnesses agreed that there should be a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing and it was noted that there was precedent for this.

When asked whether the likes of France, Japan, and Taiwan should join the technical aspects of the AUKUS and FPDA deals, witnesses agreed they all should.

Japan’s increased support for Taiwan was noted, the significance of talking about Taiwan’s security rather than Cross-Straits security was noted. It was agreed that Japan should join the Five Eyes network. Tom Tugendhat said they were seeking it.

Tom Tugendhat closed the session saying the first post-COVID visit the Foreign Affairs Committee could do would be to Taiwan and the region.

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