(Bloomberg) -- Liz Truss called on the West to bolster support for Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression during a visit to the self-governed island, the first by a former British prime minister in almost three decades.
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“It is completely irresponsible for European nations to wash their hands of Taiwan,” Truss said in a speech Wednesday in Taipei, warning about China’s recent military buildup. “The only choice we have is whether we appease and accommodate – or we take action to prevent conflict.”
It was the latest intervention on China by Truss since leaving 10 Downing Street in October, after a disastrous and record-breaking 49-day premiership that triggered financial market and political turmoil.
Her hawkish stance toward Beijing is at odds with her successor Rishi Sunak’s attempt to reset ties with the world’s second-largest economy, and her Taiwan visit has drawn criticism from members of his governing Conservative Party.
A recent review of Britain’s security policy stopped short of branding China a strategic threat, but that disappointed those Tories who say British engagement with Beijing has failed — a faction that includes Truss. In Taipei, she called on the review to be amended to “state clearly that China is a threat.”
The comments come at an awkward time for Sunak, who has faced a steady drip of criticism in recent weeks especially from the Tory right. The party shed more than 1,000 seats in local votes this month and trail the opposition Labour Party by a double-digit margin in national surveys. The prime minister travels to the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan on Wednesday.
“There are still too many in the West who are trying to cling on to the idea that we can cooperate with China on issues like climate change, as if there is nothing wrong; that there are bigger issues than Chinese global dominance,” Truss told the Prospect Foundation think tank. “We know what happens to the environment or world health under totalitarian regimes that don’t tell the truth. You can’t believe a word they say.”
Speaking to reporters after her speech, Truss said it was “absolutely clear” that Chinese President Xi Jinping “has the ambition to take Taiwan.” “All we can do — those of us who believe in freedom and democracy — is make sure that Taiwan is as protected as possible,” she said. “We need to be clear and we need to be coordinated in dealing with that threat.”
Truss also underscored the importance that allies in the Asia Pacific region play in creating a “strong” defense, adding that Britain wants to work with nations like Japan, South Korea and Australia. “We want to do all we can to support our friends in the Pacific, but it will take leadership directly from the Pacific nations themselves,” she added.
Truss’s visit was branded a “farce” earlier Wednesday by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office. The island’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party was “spending taxpayers’ money to bring over anti-China politicians that have left their offices,” spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told reporters in Beijing in response to a question about the trip.
Taiwan typically welcomes visits by overseas political and business delegations, amid growing fears the island may become a flashpoint as ties between China and the US deteriorate. A visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August triggered the ire of Beijing officials who ordered an unprecedented series of military drills around the island in response.
Truss is expected to meet with senior members of Taiwan’s government — including Taiwan President Tsai-ing Wen, according to local media.
--With assistance from Yujing Liu, Jennifer Creery and Stuart Biggs.
(Updates to include details from Liz Truss presser, China Taiwan Affairs Office.)
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