London's Trade Minister visits Taipei, infuriating Beijing

The Chinese government says the British are encouraging Taiwanese 'separatists'. In August, China responded to Nancy Pelosi's mission on the island with large-scale military manoeuvres. Beijing is also irritated by Britain's naval presence in the region.

Taipei (AsiaNews) - British Trade Minister Greg Hands began a two-day visit to Taiwan today in which he will also meet President Tsai Ing-wen. It is the first mission to the island by a London government delegation since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Hands will attend the 25th trade talks with Taipei. The two sides are working on a memorandum of understanding on technological cooperation: Taiwan is the world's leading producer of microchips, essential components in any advanced electronic device.

As expected, the arrival in Taipei of a high-ranking member of the Sunak administration has infuriated China, which considers Taiwan a 'rebel province' to be reunified even with the use of force. Beijing does not want governments with which it has formal diplomatic relations to maintain state relations with the Taiwanese, a practice seen as supporting independence forces on the island.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said today that the UK must 'stop all official exchanges with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to separatists on the island'.

Despite the remonstrances, it does not appear that Hands' visit will lead to an increase in Beijing's military manoeuvres around the island, a scenario that materialised in August with the arrival in Taipei of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Tensions between China and Great Britain had already risen in September 2021, when the Royal Navy's frigate Hms Richmond crossed the Taiwan Strait - the last time a British naval vessel had passed through the stretch of sea was in 2008.

Along with the US and Australian navies and other allies, the British continue to send warships near waters claimed by Beijing. Last month, Royal Navy units participated off Cebu (Philippines) in the Sama Sama-Lumbas exercise with counterparts from Washington, Manila Tokyo and Canberra.