TAIPEI (Reuters) – A British minister will visit Taiwan this week for trade talks and meet President Tsai Ing-wen, his office said on Monday, drawing an angry reaction from Beijing to the latest high-level engagement between a Western government and the island.
China views democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory and strongly objects to any official interactions between Taipei and foreign governments, believing it is a show of support for Taiwan’s separateness from China.
Britain’s Department for International Trade said Greg Hands, minister of state for trade and also a member of parliament, would meet Tsai and co-host the 25th annual UK-Taiwan Trade Talks during his two-day visit.
“Visiting Taiwan in person is 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,” his office said in a statement.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China resolutely opposed any form of official exchanges between a country with whom it has diplomatic ties and Taiwan.
“We urge the British side to stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to separatist forces for Taiwan independence,” he said.
Hands will also meet Taiwan’s top trade negotiator John Deng and Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua, his office added.
Taiwan’s Economy Ministry declined to comment, saying that the meetings it was arranging were closed to the media.
Taiwan views Britain as a like-minded democratic partner and has been heartened by London’s concerns over recent Chinese war games near the island and support for its participation in international organisations, most of which Taiwan are locked out of due to China’s objections.
Britain, like Taiwan, is also bidding to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. Members agreed in February that Britain can proceed with its application, as it looks for new trading relationships after leaving the European Union.
China has applied to join as well.
Britain has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but the two have close economic and informal relations and Britain maintains a de facto embassy in Taipei.
Western lawmakers and other officials have been stepping up their visits to Taiwan, despite Beijing’s strong objections, which views the island as its own territory and bristles at anything which implies it is a separate country.
China staged war games near Taiwan in August following a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Toby Chopra)