Taiwan Strait discussed in House of Commons Debate


OOn Monday March 25th the House of Commons held a debate on the Taiwan Strait led by Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP).

The discussion was kicked off with recognition of, and congratulations for, Lai Ching-te in his Presidential election victory in January. He will take office on May 20th. Tribute was also paid to outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen for standing up to “authoritarianism and … in defence of the democratic open society against the authoritarian closed alternative” and that those in the house “who believe in open society and the international rules-based system owe a great debt to those such as President Tsai Ing-wen for her public service”

Importantly, it noted that Beijing has sought to establish a new normal through an increased campaign of intimidation and grey zone aggression against Taiwan as well as continuing to ‘poach’ Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, most recently in the case of Nauru, unilateral changes to air routes in the Taiwan Strait and increasing pressure around the Kinmen islands.

Although incursions in Taiwan’s ADIZ and EEZ have fallen out of the news, these still happen on a daily basis as well as cyber attacks and “multi-front saturated grey-zone tactics to harass Taiwan.” Mention was also made of Beijing’s use of a maritime militia and constant attempts to change the de facto substance of the ‘status quo’ not only across the Strait but across the South China Sea as well.

McDonald also reinforced the Taiwan Policy Centre’s focus on listening to what Taiwanese want and recognising their right to self-determination:

“At this point, it is important to consider what the people of Taiwan think. What does Taiwanese public opinion tell us? It is important to stress the value that people in Taiwan clearly place on having an open and democratic way of life. Some 67% of people identify primarily as Taiwanese. Only 3% identify as Chinese. Nearly half support formal independence. That rises to two-thirds if maintaining the status quo were not possible. Only one in 10 want unification with China, but that should not be misread as wanting unification under Communist party rule. That all stands in stark contrast to the view in mainland China, where more than half the population back a full-scale war to take control of Taiwan. It is also important to stress that China has never—never—ruled Taiwan, which is a democracy of 24 million people. When the Minister responds, will she state that the Government are committed to the principle of self-determination, which applies to the people of Taiwan?”

The debate also clarified the content of UK’s One China policy and queried why the UK Government is moving so slowly to respond to fundamental changes in the status-quo which threaten to ultimately render redundant its template responses on the issue about the future of Taiwan.

Attention was also raised as to the importance of Taiwan’s economic contribution to the global economy and how China’s threats to Taiwan had economic as well as military security implications. Accordingly Ministers were asked as to what modelling they had done to assess the impact of a possible armed conflict on the UK economy given the vast amount of shipping traffic that would be disrupted as a result, and what de-risking strategies were being considered.

In response Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Anne-marie Trevelyan reiterated that the UK shares values, deep ties, and unofficial relations with Taiwan based on share interests, and that the work of the Ministry was supported by the British Office Taipei and the Taipei Representative Office in London. She described how the UK and Taiwan “share a thriving £8 billion trade and investment relationship, which encompasses a wide range of goods and services, not least the UK’s export of over £340 million-worth of Scotch whisky to Taiwan last year alone—always a good statistic. Our enhanced trade partnership, which we announced last year, will further strengthen this trade relationship.”

However, on the issue of conflict over Taiwan the minister repeated the Government’s official position that the Government “believe the Taiwan issue should be settled peacefully by people on both sides of the strait, without the threat or use of force or coercion” and that they “do not support any unilateral attempts to alter the status quo of the Taiwan strait.”

Despite this, Trevelyan did acknowledge the role of the PRC in creating tensions in the Taiwan Strait, noting that “China is refusing to renounce the use of force in pursuit of its objectives. It is deploying economic power to coerce countries with which it disagrees over Taiwan, as it did with Lithuania just recently, and it continually takes assertive actions near Taiwan, including military flights, which are escalating tensions. This is not the conduct of a responsible international actor, and it is not conducive to ensuring peace and stability across the strait.”

Whilst it was stated that “UK continues to support Taiwan’s inclusion internationally, where that is clearly in the global public interest”, including the WHA, this again was couched in the contingency of organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite, signalling no fundamental change in policy on the horizon.

It is of disappointment to the Taiwan Policy Centre and attendees of the debate that so few members of the house were in attendance, and whilst to might owe itself to a number of procedural and timetabling issues, it demonstrates that many members of the house still lack a sufficiently holistic understanding of the relationship between UK economic policy and foreign policy, despite over six hundred years of the former largely being predicated on, and shaped by, the latter.

The full debate can be read here

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