Taiwan Policy centre overview of the Taiwan elements of The Foreign Affairs Committee Report on the Integrated Review and the Indo-Pacific.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has today published a report entitled Tilting horizons: the Integrated Review and the Indo-Pacific.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has today published a report entitled Tilting horizons: the Integrated Review and the Indo-Pacific. It includes some vital sections on UK-Taiwan relations and this article offers an overview of the key points and our reaction to them. Perhaps the most important statement in this report in relation to Taiwan is this:

“Taiwan is already an independent country, under the name Republic of China (ROC). Taiwan possesses all the qualifications for statehood, including a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states—it is only lacking greater international recognition.”

The significance of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee recognising that Taiwan is already an independent country, but just lacking international recognition of the fact is hugely significant and extremely welcome. They are also absolutely right.

It seems that realism about Taiwan’s geo-political situation is finally entering the mainstream. It would be nice to see the FCDO acknowledge this is their response to this report and bring UK policy towards Taiwan in line with the reality of its situation. But let’s just say, we won’t be holding our breath on that one.

The report goes on to say that any attempt by the PRC to take Taiwan by force would be “an affront to the principle of state sovereignty”. Again, this is absolutely right and should be a driving factor in the UK (and our allies) in our efforts to help Taiwan defend itself.

It goes on to note that there is scope for the UK to support Taiwan against the threat from the PRC saying:

“Among measures that we might take to deter and punish Chinese aggression are:

1. directly calling out China for its intimidating rhetoric and military manoeuvres;

2. avoiding the use of neutral-sounding phrases like “any activity” and “all sides” when referring to cross-Strait tensions;

3. publicly and privately urging China to show restraint;

4. working to secure membership of international organisations for Taiwan;

5. working with allies to prepare economic sanctions against China, to be applied in the event of an invasion or economic blockade of Taiwan;

6. not recognising Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan if China takes it without the consent of the Taiwanese people; and

7. increasing parliamentary and societal exchanges and engagement.

Some of these are symbolic rather than actions that will have any meaningful effect, as doubtless the Foreign Affairs Committee well knows, but there are some key ones in there including helping Taiwan to secure membership of international organisations and preparing severe economic sanctions against the PRC in the event of an invasion or blockade. In addition, we would also like to see the UK and other allies working to ensure that Taiwan has the military capabilities and skills to defend itself, as former Foreign Secretary Liz Truss did note a few years back.

It is satisfying to see the Foreign Affairs Committee stress the fact that the PRC has never controlled Taiwan and, indeed, has rejected its own sovereignty of Taiwan historically. This is an important fact in the context of the PRC’s false sovereignty claims over Taiwan and should be cited much more regularly in discussion over this issue.

We were also pleased to see the Committee report note the views of the Taiwanese people that there is no wish, on either side of Taiwan’s political divide, to be subsumed into the PRC and ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. The voice of the Taiwanese people is left out of the discussion on Taiwan’s future far too often and it is good to see it acknowledged, albeit fleetingly, here.

The Committee report also makes it clear, quite correctly, that the UK does not accept the PRC’s One China policy. Instead, like the US, it recognises that this is the view held by the CCP regime in the PRC without adhering to it. This is important and gives us far more flexibility when it comes to relations with Taiwan than you might think when looking at the FCDO’s track record.

The Committee suggests, quite rightly, that UK policy towards Taiwan is “over-cautious” about upsetting the CCP. This is absolutely right and there is plenty of evidence from other countries that have deepened relations with Taiwan that, while the CCP does stamp its feet and throw its toys out of the pram, things nevertheless quickly return to normal.

It suggests that the appointment of UK representatives to Taiwan should not be restricted to individuals with extensive experience in Taiwan to avoid over-sensitivity of this kind. We absolutely agree with that.

The report notes that there is, and has been for the past 25 years, no reason why a UK Cabinet member shouldn’t visit Taiwan and it describes restrictions on interactions with Taiwanese Government Ministers as “self-imposed” which they absolutely are. The Committee recommends that “The UK Government should support visits by trade, science and education ministers both inward and outward with Taiwan.”

We absolutely concur and would like to see all self-imposed restrictions on engagement between the democratically elected Governments of the UK and Taiwan lifted. At present, senior Ministers from Taiwan are not permitted on UK soil. That policy should end now.

On trade, the report rightly calls for support for Taiwan’s membership of the CPTPP and further notes that the PRC does not object to countries having free trade agreements with Taiwan in principle (although it expects it own free trade agreement first), and Taiwan is keen to sign a bilateral trade agreement with the UK.

This is important to help both sides reduce dependency on the PRC, yet such an agreement with the PRC is impossible given their myriad of human rights abuses and ‘dubious’ business practices.

The report suggests that the UK should “align with allied nations to all sign Trade Agreements simultaneously to demonstrate that this sort of economic leverage is unacceptable.”

It could be argued that such a stance might be applied to diplomatic relations with Taiwan as well!

It also notes the importance of collaborations on trade and technology and while there is a predictable focus on semiconductors, it does also say this should expand to include things like electric vehicles, battery storage, advanced materials for future energy production and AI. Needless to say, this is something we wholeheartedly agree with and the recommendations about closer links over languages and culture are also to be welcomed.

The report ends with a series of recommendations on the future of UK-Taiwan relations:

1. Whitehall (for this read the FCDO) needs to understand that the UK does not accept the PRC’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan “to prevent policymakers from misspeaking or acting over-cautiously when it comes to interacting with Taiwan and Taiwanese officials.150 As part of this, the importance of the Taiwan strait, as a safeguard, should be understood.”

2. The UK needs to build on its existing cooperation with Taiwan and with like-minded partner countries to help achieve Taiwan’s peaceful objectives and strengthen its resilience. This is not a threat to the CCP, but a friendship with a fellow democracy.

3. The UK Government must identify meaningful activities, and red lines, that enable it to shape and pursue an effective policy of deterrence diplomacy to contribute to the protection of the right of self-determination of the people of Taiwan. The last two decades are mired in failures to deter autocratic countries from pursuing sovereignty through violence and coercion.

4. The UK should engage with Taiwanese and other major companies to secure inward investment in the semiconductor and wind industries in the UK to enhance resilience by building an alternative supply source for advanced semiconductors and wind energy components, whether this involves onshoring or friendshoring.

5. The Government should press for Taiwan to take its place in international bodies, including the WHO, the OECD, the IEA and the CPTPP, for the benefit of all countries.

We recommend that the Government this year publish a plan to scale up its cooperation with Taiwan over the next five years on English language teaching in Taiwan and Mandarin teaching in the UK to meet the requirements of Taiwan’s Bilingual 2030 programme and the UK’s need to reduce dependence on Confucius Institutes, especially in secondary schools where breaches of freedom of speech will be an issue, just as they have been in universities.
Here at the Taiwan Policy Centre we concur with pretty much everything that the Foreign Affairs Committee has recommended when it comes to Taiwan. We will await with interest, but not too much optimism, to see how the Government responds to this very clear, rational, and fact-driven report on Taiwan.

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