The British parliament has for the first time referred to Taiwan as an “independent country” in an official document, breaking a political taboo as Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visits China this week.
The new language, adopted in a report published Wednesday by the influential foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons, risks a stinging backlash from Beijing and comes as Cleverly becomes the first top British envoy to visit Beijing in five years amid a frosty relationship.
Beijing has long denied Taiwan’s statehood, insisting the self-governing democratic island is part of its territory. Only 13 countries around the world recognize Taipei instead of Beijing diplomatically.
“Taiwan is already an independent country, under the name Republic of China,” the committee report says. “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.”
According to Committee Chairperson Alicia Kearns, from the ruling Conservative Party, it’s the first time a U.K. parliament report is making such a declaration. “We acknowledge China’s position, but we as [the foreign affairs committee] do not accept it,” Kearns told POLITICO. “It is imperative the foreign secretary steadfastly and vocally stand by Taiwan and make clear we will uphold Taiwan’s right to self-determination.”
“This commitment aligns not only with British values but also serves as a poignant message to autocratic regimes worldwide that sovereignty cannot be attained through violence or coercion,” Kearns added.
In response to the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized it for “reversing right and wrong and confusing black and white.”
“China urges the British parliament to adhere to the ‘one China’ principle … and stop sending the wrong signals to pro-independence Taiwanese secessionist forces,” Wang said.
The Taiwanese foreign ministry, on the other hand, thanked Westminster for issuing the report.
“We are grateful [for] the British parliament’s support for Taiwan’s status and international participation,” a ministry spokesperson told the media.
The committee report criticized the government for not being bold enough in supporting Taiwan, calling on officials to start preparing sanctions with allies in order to deter Beijing’s military action and economic blockade over the island that supplies 90 percent of the world’s most advanced semiconductors.
“The U.K. could pursue closer relations with Taiwan if it were not over-cautious about offending the [Chinese Communist Party],” the committee said. “The U.K. should loosen self-imposed restrictions on who can interact with Taiwanese officials. The U.S. and Japan have shown that communication is possible even at the highest level.”
London should also work with Tokyo and Taipei for trilateral cooperation on cyber and space defence capabilities, it said.
On Taiwan’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), of which Britain is a new member, the committee urged the government to campaign for Taiwan’s admission.
Meanwhile, the report also criticized the British government for keeping its China strategy under wraps.
“Given the publication by Germany of a China strategy, it is evidently possible for the U.K. government to publish a public, unclassified, version which would give the public and private sectors the guidance they are seeking,” it said.
Whitehall, it said, should be tougher on China’s “transnational repression” on British soil, such as sanctioning U.K. lawmakers or harassing dissidents.
Cleverly “must be absolute that defense is not an escalation, and that the U. K. will stand resolute and take action against any efforts at transnational repression,” Kearns said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has stopped short of defining China as a broad “threat,” instead pitching it as an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge.”