‘They invited me’: Former British PM defends decision to visit self-governing island.
May 15, 2023
LONDON — “More action” from the West is needed to combat China, Liz Truss warned Monday ahead of a controversial trip to Taiwan this week.
In an interview with POLITICO’s editor-in-chief, Jamil Anderlini, at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Truss defended her decision to visit Taiwan Tuesday, arguing the self-governing island’s government invited her.
Truss, who was U.K. foreign secretary before entering No. 10 Downing Street, is one of the ruling Conservative Party’s most strident China hawks.
She will arrive in Taiwan Tuesday as the first former prime minister to visit the territory since Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s.
China views self-governing Taiwan as its territory and has said it is committed to reclaiming it — though the U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to arm and defend the island in the event of an invasion.
Defending her visit, Truss argued that it is “very important” the West engages with the island.
“The reason I’m going to Taiwan is that I have been invited by the Taiwan government. I believe it is they who know best,” she said.
Britain has no official diplomatic relations with the island and serving U.K. ministers are cautious about visiting, although Conservative Party Chairman Greg Hands visited when he was a trade minister last November. China has not taken kindly to Western politicians visiting the island in the past.
When then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in January, China attacked the trip as a “gross interference in China’s internal affairs.” Beijing responded with massive live-fire exercises around the island.
Truss said any threat to Taiwan that goes unanswered by the West would embolden Russia and Vladimir Putin, who she said was “working in partnership” with China’s Xi Jinping.
“I don’t think Vladimir Putin believed that the West was serious about sanctions before we put them on,” she said. “We have to be absolutely clear that if there is some kind of escalation in Taiwan, there would be a very severe and serious reaction.”
Call for action
In her interview, Truss said she stood by her assertion — describing China as “the largest threat that we face to the free world.” She called for more “action” from Western allies to combat China.
“The U.K. needs to take more action, but it’s not just the U.K., it’s the whole continent of Europe and it’s also the United States … we need to take action collectively,” she said.
She called for a “common approach” on issues such as the type of technology the West is willing to export to China, and its level of dependency on the country.
Her comments represent another swipe at Emmanuel Macron, whom Truss has previously criticized over his Taiwan stance. In an interview with POLITICO, the French president had claimed Europe should not become “America’s followers” if it reacted to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
But her remarks also represent a veiled barb at both Sinophiles calling for more engagement in her own party, and European nations that largely benefit from Chinese investment and trade.
“I care less about the rhetoric, because I think fundamentally we send mixed messages if we continue with the same level of trade and investment with China, but just put messages out that are different,” Truss said.