Uk Parliament House of Lord's Debate On China

On Thursday 14th July, Lord West of Spithead (Labour), the former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, tabled a question for short debate in the House of Lords on topic of China.

The question tabled was ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to respond to the long-term security challenges posed by China.’

In his speech, Lord West highlights a wide range of security threats China posed to the UK. His only reference to Taiwan was to note his view that “the current war in Europe [does not] mean that the Chinese will invade Taiwan barring some very dramatic change.” It is a view that echoes the assessment made by the Taiwan Policy Centre on exactly this topic in our recent report, Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) noted in his contribution that “if we look through the lens of Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Wuhan or Xinjiang or through the lens of Xi Jinping’s support for Putin in Ukraine, we see that the security threat posed by the CCP is both stark and self-evident.” As with so many of Lord Alton’s informed and perceptive contributions to the debate on issues around China, particularly on the genocide of Uyghur Muslims and the annexation of Hong Kong, he is absolutely right.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab) expressed his hope that CCP Chairman Xi Jinping will “see the robust response in terms of sanctions and feed that into his own calculations on Taiwan”, another point we made in our recent report and with which we heartily concur.

Viscount Waverley (Crossbench) made the most detailed contribution about Taiwan saying:

“Indicators point, I fear, to China triggering an invasion of Taiwan to assert its one-China policy. This presents two conundrums: first, Taiwan having been delisted as a UN nation state in 1979 and, secondly, liberal democracies believing that steps to strengthen relations with Taiwan would instigate retaliatory measures from Beijing. The ripple effects that would extend across the region, however, should not be underestimated, with China having to spend years pacifying Taiwan, both militarily and politically. China must believe that sanctions represent deterrence and an existential economic threat by Western countries curtailing trade while being challenged in parallel to protect vital logistical supply routes before China ends dollar-based transactions.

“The US maintains a position of strategic ambiguity. It pursues a deterrence and reassurance strategy and deliberates on how to reduce the possibility of war by exploring conflict contingency plans, notwithstanding the Taiwan Relations Act, by which the US provides Taiwan with defensive capabilities. It juggles that by leading in the applying of economic, political and cultural sanctions, with the retaliatory freezing of Chinese assets, confiscation of Chinese-origin organisations and decoupling of information technology companies.Toggle showing location of Column 1629

“Sanctions are not the only deterrent, however. Any invasion would hinge on intricate military and logistical planning, requiring an amphibious assault across the large sea gap to reach Taiwan. It is fortified by heavily forested mountain ridges running the length of the island and is, crucially, mostly urban, which would present China’s forces with significant losses. China would likely resort to activating kinetic strikes using long range hypersonic ballistic weaponry with the spectre of threatening to go nuclear or, at the very least, escalating cyberspace activity and targeting a range of critical Western infrastructure by secretly deploying Trojan horse missiles in shipping containers positioned in Western ports.”

Our view is that this is a pessimistic assessment of the current situation but certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. Lord Desai (Non-Affiliated) made the point that the Chinese people do think differently because they are essentially brainwashed from birth by the CCP regime. He says:

“Suppose I was China—how would I feel about Taiwan? Why would I accept that Taiwan is an independent country of any sort, and why should anybody think that it does not belong to China?

It is a good point and a significant challenge for the west to overcome. Many Chinese students come to study in the UK and the West. But they are closely monitored by their regime and any that step out of line know that there will be consequences for themselves and their families back home. This is something the UK Government and others need to address. It is wrong that a whole demographic of people visiting this country are no able to enjoy the same freedoms and rights as the rest of us because of the policies of a totalitarian regime elsewhere. Lord Rogan (UUP), who also co-Chairs the British-Taiwanese APPG, spoke glowingly of Taiwan but described it as feeling like a country “under constant siege because of the aggressive words and actions of China.” He went on to say:

“Beijing has increased the number and scale of patrols of bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft in Taiwanese airspace and close to Taiwan itself. It has sailed its warships and aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Strait in shows of force. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, alluded to, it has also launched thousands of cyberattacks against Taiwanese government agencies, with new assaults coming every day. The authoritarian Chinese regime hates the freedoms enjoyed by the people of Taiwan. By his aggressive actions, Xi Jinping believes that he can wear down the population and lead them to conclude that unification with China is in their best interests. I must tell your Lordships that he is very much mistaken.

He is absolutely right, although for most regulat people living in Taiwan, life is much like that in any free and democratic nation state, and we don’t recognise the suggestion of a life under siege as a reality for the vast majority of Taiwan’s 23 millon people. Lord Rogan went on to talk about Taiwan’s diplomatic relations with the UK saying:

“I regard it as shameful that the United Kingdom does not recognise Taiwan as a state and has no diplomatic relations with the country. We must ask why. Is it because successive UK Governments have chosen to placate the dictators in Beijing rather than stand up to them?”

On this matter, Lord Rogan is absolutely right and this is a topic will be addressing in more detail in our upcoming report on UK-Taiwanese Diplomatic Relations. Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) expressed his view that “it is now clear that President Xi is intent on controlling Taiwan in some form, even if he is reluctant to go to war like Putin has in Ukraine.” This is something that has never really been in doubt under Xi’s regime. Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con) concluded the debate by speaking on behalf of the UK Government. His comments on Taiwan did not drift far from the standard Government position which is rolled out every time a question about Taiwan is raised. He said:

“A number of noble Lords, including, powerfully, I thought, the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Collins, mentioned Taiwan. The UK, like our international partners, has a clear interest in enduring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The UK’s long-standing position on Taiwan has not changed, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear. The numerous Chinese military flights that have taken place near Taiwan recently are not conducive to regional peace and stability. We consider the Taiwan issue one to be settled peacefully by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait through constructive dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion. In June, G7 leaders confirmed their shared perspective on this issue. We support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations as a member where statehood is not a prerequisite, and as an observer or guest where it is; for example, at the World Health Organization.”

It remains consistently disappointing that the UK Government sticks to these anodyne and carefully crafted lines, designed to appease the CCP while simultaneously allowing the Government to claim they continue to stand up for the values of freedom and democracy in Taiwan. The Taiwan Policy Centre will continue to push the Government to take a more principled, concerted, and realistic stance on Taiwan in the months and years ahead.

You can read the full debate transcript on this debate here.

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