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Thursday 10 February 2022
Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House notes the importance of the UK’s relationship with Taiwan; calls on the Government to continue to work towards the strengthening of the UK-Taiwan trade relationship and deepening of security cooperation; and further calls on the Government to support Taiwan’s recognition in the international community.
An island like our own, Taiwan is a democracy where free markets and the rule of law are valued and upheld. Reverence of liberty and respect for fair governance are treasured by the Taiwanese, just as they are in countries across the free world. Yet Taiwan is also unique. It has a beautiful culture born out of the many peoples and countries that have touched the island. Within this diversity, the Taiwanese show elements of a common culture with their Chinese cousins. They speak Mandarin, and they gather every year to celebrate the same traditions as those on the Chinese mainland. For example, just this month, millions of Taiwanese celebrated the beginning of the lunar new year, and I am sure everyone will join me in wishing them well in the year of the tiger.
However, Taiwan has always been distinct. Following the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, Taiwan was ruled separately from the emergent Ching dynasty in Beijing. The Kangxi Emperor, who ruled China for longer than any other, said of the island:
“We gain nothing by possessing it, and it would be no loss if we did not acquire it.”
Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
To what extent does my hon. Friend believe that, following our withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Government of China are watching very closely our resolve in the face of threats to Ukraine, as they assess what they might do with regard to their ambitions in the South China sea?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that comment, and he is absolutely right that autocratic Governments across the world are now questioning our resolve and questioning our ability to go in and defend our neighbours, particularly to uphold the values of democracy. I will elucidate that point more if he gives me a little time.
While the pomposity of that comment and attitude about Taiwan does not reflect the immense value of this nation, it does highlight the novelty of the Chinese claims to the island. China did not always claim the right to govern Taiwan, and that is important in understanding the current tensions as we look at recent developments.
Taiwan has not always been the democracy we see today. The years after the second world war saw the emergence of a one-party nationalist state, with widespread political repression. At the beginning of the 1980s, however, Taiwan pursued democratic reform. Building on the rapid economic growth post war, the island became a multi-party, rules-based democracy. This transformation was known as the Taiwan miracle. The Economist global democracy index now shows just how far Taiwan come. I doubt many Members would know that Taiwan is ranked as the 11th most democratic country on earth and the No. 1 most democratic country in Asia, according to The Economist, which is a quite outstanding achievement.
Taiwan is therefore the living, breathing truth that societies rooted in Chinese culture are capable of developing into free market, democratic and rules-respecting members of the international community. It is this truth that explains why the Chinese Communist party fears Taiwan so greatly, because as long as Taiwan exists, the world will know that Government need not be defined by control, repression and even genocide, as we have seen under the Chinese Communist party. When Xi Jinping claims that Taiwan has always been part of China, he is using a false narrative to pursue his political agenda.
Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
Does the hon. Member agree with me that the problem we have at the moment is that there seems to be an absence of strategy from the Government towards China and its relationship with Taiwan? Does she feel that we do need something urgently to fill that gap or, as the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said, China will be looking very closely at our reactions and perhaps its own actions will be influenced by that lack of strategy?
I thank the hon. Lady, and I very much agree that we need a cross-Government strategy on China. However, I think she will probably hear from the Minister later some relief on that subject, because I believe that a cross-Government strategy is currently being developed. It looks as though the officials in the Box are relieved that I am saying so, but we will wait to hear about that later.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
Some people have often said that China has adopted a patient attitude to Taiwan and thinks that eventually it will somehow fall into China’s lap. Is it not important that we have a cross-party, cross-House and whole-nation approach to this in the UK, and do we not have just as deep a well of patience as China?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. China believes it is in the ascendancy and needs simply to wait it out until the UK and the US lose their ability to maintain an international rules-based order, and then it can occupy Taiwan. He puts it very well when he says that we too are watching and we too will wait, and we will stand by our allies. He is absolutely right that we need a cross-party approach, and I believe that under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) we see exactly that on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The current tensions in Taiwan must be seen for what they are: the direct result of the emergence of democracy and the Chinese Communist party’s own insecurity about a modern, successful and democratic Chinese society. When people ask why we should care about an island on the other side of the globe, the answer is simple. Taiwan represents the best of democracy, and the United Kingdom must always take the side of democracy and our friends who are trying to uphold its values.
Over the past few years, we in this House have watched with dismay as the Chinese Communist party has stripped away the freedoms and liberties of our friends in Hong Kong. The implementation of the national security law has transformed a vibrant and open society into a repressive, Orwellian nightmare, where a teenager faces prison for voicing slightly critical views on social media. While we all mourn the loss of those freedoms, I urge hon. Members not to fall into a state of resignation; our friends in Taiwan need more than that.
Therefore, I will discuss three areas that bind the interests of the United Kingdom to Taiwan: further economic co-operation, international recognition, and security and regional stability. The UK and Taiwan already enjoy a fruitful trading relationship: £7.2 billion of goods and services were exchanged in 2020 alone. Taiwan, as we all know, is the leading producer of semiconductor chips, the micro-engines of our modern world. From mobile phones to the fighter planes that make up the Royal Air Force, the importance of those chips cannot be overstated, but there has been a shortage in recent years, leading both the European Union and USA to implement strategies to maintain their access. We must do the same.
Sensing an opportunity, the Chinese Communist party is already moving to try to dominate this market, although I suspect it will not be able to because of the high-quality workmanship needed to create the chips. Only last year, China purchased the UK’s largest producer of semiconductor chips, Newport Wafer Fab. I opposed the takeover, as did the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I urge the Government to continue to do more to protect industries of special national interest. We cannot be selling them off. We must seek to produce, to protect our own production capabilities and to foster trading relationships with democracies that will protect supply chains.
A trade deal with Taiwan would not only ensure access to semiconductor chips, but help the UK to achieve our net zero targets without compromising on our morals. In my Rutland and Melton constituency there is a 2,175-acre solar plant proposed on good agricultural land, which is being developed by a de facto Chinese company with supply chains reaching into Xinjiang, the site of the Chinese Communist party’s genocide. I will not see Rutland’s soil tainted by mass human rights atrocities. I urge the Government to pursue a bilateral trade deal, because we know Taiwan produces quality solar panels free of Uyghur blood labour.
Taiwan is a country committed to net zero by 2050, producing high-quality green technology, and it shares our democratic morals. What better partner for a trade deal? Let us strike one and begin to develop the alternative supply chains we need to free Taiwan and to a lesser extent ourselves from economic reliance on the Chinese mainland. Let us focus on high-quality technologies and renewables. There is opportunity for us and for them.
The UK is also in the process of joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We have recognised the shift in global wealth and power towards the Indo-Pacific, and global Britain is rightly stepping up to that. As we pivot towards Asia, however, we must have someone to lean on. Taiwan could play an important role there.
We are all aware of the limitations placed on Taiwan globally: despite having the 21st largest economy and a population of 24 million, it is still barred from meaningful participation in much of the international order. Although tens of millions of passengers pass through its airports, Taiwan has not been represented at the International Civil Aviation Organization since 2014. That is illogical, and the UK must support its readmittance to that body.
Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for Taiwan’s place in the international community and its role in international bodies. Does she agree that this is not just about Taiwan, but about us as well? What we have seen from the absence of Taiwan’s voice on the World Health Organisation is a worse performance against covid, the Wuhan virus that emerged under Chinese tutelage. Does she agree that we are seeing a damaged response and a worsened ability of the British people to protect themselves because China has decided, for its own selfish reasons, to bully and silence Taiwan?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There is no question but that the Taiwanese response to covid was transparent. It was one of friendship, education and reaching out, yet the international community somehow closed their doors to it. Not only is Taiwan barred from the World Health Organisation and World Health Assembly, but it was expelled from its observer position. That is not acceptable for a country that had impressive contact tracing and border controls, and a rejection of the Orwellian restrictions that other countries put in place.
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech. As she rightly pointed out, Taiwan is a beacon not only of liberal democracy but of scientific co-operation, and it has shown huge expertise in the way it dealt with the covid-19 pandemic. She has rightly called for Taiwan to be readmitted with observer status to the WHO. What specific and tangible steps does she think the British Government should be taking to lobby the international community to make that happen? When does she think we should start seeing more tangible action from the British Government in that context?
We know there are partners across the world who wish to support us in upholding the rights and opportunities of our democratic partners. We should be forming constellations of alliances in every multilateral organisation and zone, where we lobby and work together, whether that is ensuring that we get the right president of Interpol, or ensuring that we have friends such as the Taiwanese at the table or with observer status. Those are things that the UK can lead on, because no nation in the world is better at convening other nations than the UK. If we put our mind to it, we can achieve it.
We must be careful to avoid an unnecessary clash with China in which Taiwan is caught in the middle and becomes collateral damage. The current settlement has maintained peace for 40 years, and we should never underestimate the importance and value of peace. We must therefore be careful in the framing of our relationship and duties to Taiwan. The emergence of full-blown US-China or UK-China strategic rivalry risks increasing Taiwan’s place in political rhetoric between our nations, or it becoming a lightning rod for international agitation and a signal, or a de facto signal, of how strongly a country is or is not standing up to the Chinese Communist party. While that might be easy, or even attractive, to fall into, our Taiwanese friends deserve more meaningful engagement from all of us in this place; it should not be because Taiwan is a useful pawn in our wider competition or debates. I urge the Minister to ensure that we pursue meaningful engagement with Taiwan and that we act tactfully. When I call for Taiwan to have greater international recognition, it is on account of its democracy, its expertise and its status as a free-market friend; not as a tool in a wider struggle.
There are things we can learn from Taiwan, and we must, as we establish this new constellation of alliances around the world. We must also be alert to the risk of framing Taiwan as the smaller cousin of a great beast. It deserves better than that. The Taiwanese are not an embattled people withstanding increasing pressure from the authoritarian communist mainland, which sits waiting to launch an invasion. Taiwan is a strong, thriving economy and society, and a friend, and we must support it in the measured and diplomatic manner that it deserves.
Our first step would be a round of ministerial visits, and I hope the Minister can arrange reciprocal visits, particularly with a Minister at Cabinet level who could represent all of Government, given that we recognise the restrictions on the engagement of particular Departments. I also call for formal recognition to be given to the Taipei representative office, and for meaningful political dialogue. Indeed, His Excellency—I call him that on purpose—the ambassador of Taiwan is observing this debate today; he joins us in the Chamber, and I am sure we all wish to extend our welcome to him. What a gesture it would be if we were to consider granting his office, which serves Taiwan with great distinction, legal diplomatic status.
I have already spoken about the strength of Taiwan’s democracy, the unique culture of its people, and the immense contribution it can and wants to make internationally. But all that is at risk. The 40 years of peace preserved under the principle that Taiwan is a part of China, which we recognise but do not necessarily believe in fully, is being tested. Xi Jinping has committed himself to the political reunification, or “the great rejuvenation” as he calls it, of Taiwan and China, including through the use of force. Already in 2022, in just 27 days, Taiwan has suffered over 148 threatening flights by Chinese aircraft into the air defence identification zone, threatening the Taiwanese air force through a concerted campaign to erode its confidence, as well as grievous aggravations in the Taiwan strait.
The UK is committed to the international rules-based order and I welcome that the Royal Navy’s flagship, the Queen Elizabeth, went to the Taiwan strait last year. I praise the Government for getting Taiwan on the agenda of the recent G7 meeting under our presidency. This is the sort of forward-thinking engagement that we need, but we must do more.
We cannot sit back and wait for any tragedies, such as those in Hong Kong, to occur again. We must act, and we must act now. I ask the Minister to work with our allies around the world, to engage with those nations that respect freedom and have the same concerns that we do, to set in place deterrents and diplomacy to protect our Taiwanese friends, and to ensure we are monitoring, perhaps in the conflict zone that was recently established, the increasing grey-zone hostilities against Taiwan, so that we can measure the incremental and subtle escalations that are taking place.
We also need to look at resilience building with our Taiwanese friends, whether helping them counter disinformation campaigns, developing supply chain resilience or ensuring they can retain access to markets worldwide, which will surely be one the first places that China will seek to hurt them. We have all been impressed by the swift actions of this Government in Ukraine, but now we must show that we are truly a global Britain and will act worldwide.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is long overdue. On that point, the Foreign Secretary has been in Russia this week, showing steely determination to stand up to Russia about the way it is behaving with Ukraine. Do we need the same kind of steely determination shown towards Beijing over its attitude towards Taiwan and Hong Kong, and its general behaviour in that part of the world?
My hon. Friend has long been an advocate and friend of the Taiwanese people. The issue is that for too long autocratic countries around the world have seen no cost when they escalate, escalate and escalate. Whether is it Dodik in Bosnia, Putin in Ukraine and around our near neighbourhood, or China in Hong Kong, and whether domestically or in the countries around them, I fear greatly that we fail to bring costs to bear that matter, at our own peril.
Let us look at the situation in Ukraine. Putin has achieved much in the past few weeks. We have given him the world status that he has been craving, with America, France and England all going to Moscow to be called equal to him on the world stage. We have given tacit agreement to him that those borders that he has already occupied are now his to keep. “Just don’t go any further,” we say. That is not enough. That is not a cost. Putin has won greatly in the past few weeks.
While we all recognise the threats facing democracy today, how we in this place respond matters, because it will define the future of the United Kingdom. Around the world, Parliaments are watching us and listening to us. How we respond now will define the rest of this century, and our children’s children’s future. We are proud of our country for its role in protecting democracy in the past, and we must channel that pride into action. I urge all Members to raise their voices in support of Taiwan.
Let us strike a trade deal that benefits our economy and supports our ally; support their democratic values and their strength in being the No.1 democracy in Asia; and give Taiwan’s representatives in the UK the legal status they need. I call for Taiwan to be given a voice internationally, and to be readmitted to both the World Health Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Most importantly, let us ensure that everyone knows that we in this place stand clearly behind the US, as the main guarantor of Taiwan’s security, and our allies in the preservation of peace and stability in the Taiwan strait. We know that Taiwan has much to offer to the world. As our friend, it is our duty to ensure that its contribution is heard, accepted and embraced.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on leading this important debate. I must declare an interest, having been a guest of Taipei in the past. I welcome the ambassador and his team to the House this afternoon.
This month, we have been reminded more than ever of the importance of allies around the world, and of friendship with nations that are at risk from bullying neighbours. Taiwan is a liberal democracy. It has free and fair elections and a free press. Indeed, it outperforms the UK in international democracy rankings. Those are principles and a record worth defending. Just as we all look on cautiously at what is happening in Ukraine, the future of Taiwan, too, could change the world. It is in no one’s interest to see conflict, but, as we saw in Syria with President Obama’s red lines, a commitment to act that is not backed by action is a free pass for enemies of peace. President Biden and other Pacific allies understand the importance of Taiwan. The new-found focus on the Pacific will bear fruit. Stability, democracy and freedom are valuable and right. They are our own aims and values, and they should be recognised as such.
That is surely part of the reason why relations between Taiwan and the UK continue to improve. Nine out of 10 UK companies feel positive or very positive about their business outlook in Taiwan—an all-time high. Trade is booming, investment grows and British whisky is used to toast that success. Taiwan is a critical partner for the UK. As a world leader in high-tech manufacturing, Taiwan accounts for one fifth of global chip manufacturing and, it is estimated, half of all cutting-edge capacity. Any risk to that is a serious threat to the UK, and it would put the entire global supply chain at risk. The impact does not bear thinking about.
Taiwan is currently excluded from regional co-operation and trade bodies. While we may have chosen to exclude ourselves from our neighbours, Taiwan wants to make no such mistake. I hope the UK will continue to support Taiwan’s continued attempts at international participation. I urge partners around the world, including the World Health Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to co-operate with Taiwan. Taiwan has much to offer us in knowledge and expertise, and we should not allow it to be stifled.
The United States remains unparalleled in its importance, guaranteeing Taiwanese independence, and we must stand shoulder to shoulder against intimidation. I look forward to continued ministerial engagement with Taiwan, and to us being able to learn as much as possible from Taiwan’s sizeable healthcare experience. I urge the Government to afford the Taipei representative office in the UK some form of legal status and to ease existing restrictions on high-level Taiwanese officials travelling to the UK.
Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
I am very lucky to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma)—I do call him my hon. Friend—as they both covered so many of the issues that I would have covered. I am freed to speak on a slightly wider area, because this is not just about the immediate proximity of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Taiwan; it is about the relationship that we have sadly had with Beijing in recent years.
A few years ago, I was privileged to be elected by the previous Parliament as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. One of the first things I wanted to do was to look at our relationship with China, to see how we could develop it, what we could improve, what we could make better and perhaps what we could put aside. I reached out to the then Chinese ambassador, was invited to meet China’s Potemkin Parliament and the Committee was invited to Beijing.
We did what we usually do and put in our visa requests, having already been told that, as guests of the National People’s Congress, they would go through. One of our members, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell)—I am glad to see him here today—was with us and China stopped the visa process. I was told that I had to demand that he apologise for being a member of the all-party parliamentary group on Taiwan. I know many people have ideas that Committee Chairs are getting too powerful, but even I did not think I had the power to silence him. Indeed, many Prime Ministers and many greater people than me have found that no one has the power to silence him.
I am delighted to say that the politburo and the chairman of the Central Military Commission, from which the man who claims to be President derives his real power, discovered that they do not have the power to silence my hon. Friend, either. He did not apologise and visas were issued. For me, it was a very important first lesson that we have to stand up for what really matters. We have to stand up for ourselves, for our democracy and for our freedom, and we have to be absolutely clear why we are doing it. Of course we wanted to visit Beijing, and of course the Chinese Government have the right to issue or not to issue visas to the Foreign Affairs Committee—that is absolutely fair, as they do not have to issue visas to us—but they do not have the right to decide who sits on the Committee, as that is the privilege of this House and of our people.
That was my first lesson on the kind of relationship we have with Beijing at the moment. It hugely reversed what I hoped would be a constructive direction, and I am very sorry that it did so. Many of us who have been to China on a few occasions think incredibly highly of the Chinese people and of the culture and civilisation that has developed in different communities—some Han, some Mongol, some Tibetan, some Uyghur. We know that the Hui people have harboured Islam in their hearts, and we know there are Christian communities that go back 1,600, 1,700 and maybe even 1,800 years in different parts of China. We know this is a culture that is expressed in many different ways, and it is not always in a single unitary state. This is an area that has given the world such enormous wealth, richness, diversity and innovation.
John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many of these peoples do not want to be Chinese? They want to be Tibetan, for instance. They are forced to remain within China’s boundaries against their will, and China refuses them the opportunity for self-determination, which is shameful.
The hon. Gentleman will know very well that this country recognises that peoples in our community have the right to self-determination. In China, sadly, that has been taken away from people. I agree entirely that there are many peoples who the Chinese state calls Chinese, but who call themselves something else. We have always recognised that people choose their status, not Governments.
Let me come back to Taiwan and why the debate is so important. Many of us are focusing, understandably, on what is going on in Moscow. We are focusing on the journey that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took today to see her opposite number, Mr Lavrov. We are focused on the fact that we are seeing physical threats to borders in Europe for the first time since 2014—and that was the first time that had happened since 1945. We are seeing genuine aggression against free and sovereign people in a way that we have not in 60 or 70 years, except for in the case of the annexation of Crimea, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and, of course, Donetsk and Luhansk.
We are also seeing dictatorships trying to undermine democracies. We are seeing it because they have shown it to us. The relationship between Mr Putin and Mr Xi is extremely concerning. They have advertised it to us; they met in order to demonstrate their commitment to each other, and to undermining democracy and freedom around the world. That is why we are talking about Taiwan today. We are seeing a real moment in global politics—a point when we are more vulnerable than we have been for a long time. We see, sadly, a diversion of attention in Washington, confusion in Brussels, and a proliferation of different ideas, thoughts and challenges in Paris, Berlin and Rome.
We are seeing steel in Vilnius and Warsaw, and among many partners and friends. But sadly we are not seeing it as widely as we need to. That is exposing us to a double-edged risk—perhaps not just the risk that Russia may invade Ukraine. It may; 125,000 troops on the border suggests that it is possible. But Russia may also use this opportunity to demonstrate that there is confusion and division in the west, and use that to convince friends and allies that the deals that it has made in the last 20 or 30 years are no longer valid, and that they should bow down to Beijing and Moscow instead. That would be much more damaging to our long-term future, our peoples’ liberties, and our economic prosperity than many other decisions that could be taken. What is worse, the decision to do that in Ukraine would open up an opportunity to think about doing the same in Taiwan.
It is certainly true that any military invasion of Taiwan would be extremely difficult. The Chinese military—the People’s Liberation Army Navy, as it is somewhat bizarrely called—has been developing an amphibious capability that it thinks puts it in with a chance of a successful landing on Taiwan’s shores. I know—we all know—that is what it is doing; it is not a secret.
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend when he is making such a good point, but does he agree that, very concerningly, some of the research, intelligence and information that underpin some of those new technological advances that China is making are coming from British universities, British researchers and British companies, where espionage is at large? It is funding them quite openly, yet there seems to be no accountability in academia for the selling of what should be state-protected secrets to somebody who is clearly at odds with our own interests.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and I will come back to that point, because she will not be surprised to hear that I wish to build on it.
Those of us who have some experience of fighting in mountains know that it is a lot harder for the attacker than the defender. Those of us who have sadly spent too much time reading stories of Operation Overlord will know that even the short straits that separate us from northern France provided an extremely difficult obstacle for our forebears to get over. So 100 miles of really difficult water to cross on the straits of Taiwan really does present an obstacle. Indeed, the sea state there is often so difficult that only for very short windows is it possible to truly cross. The landing positions that the Chinese forces would need to assault are narrow and therefore likely to afford Taiwanese forces the ability to defend.
I do not think that we should really be looking at the military threat in the classical sense. Instead, we are looking at the military threat in the sense of what we see from Russia in Ukraine and, sadly, from China in other parts of the world. We are seeing an erosion—an erosion of the will to fight, an erosion of the nation state to hold together, and an erosion of the integrity of a society to resist pressure—and that is coming in many, many different ways.
The first, sadly, is in what has become known as fake news: the disinformation campaigns that we are seeing around the world, the extraordinary assaults on our intelligence, our intellect and our ability to talk to one another as equals by spreading the hatred and lies that we see, sadly, too frequently here in the UK, in the United States and in many other countries. We are seeing that being absolutely industrialised in countries such as Ukraine and Taiwan. They are not the sole aim of these targets, but merely the roadblock on the way to the rest, because this is intended to change the way in which the global economy works and the way in which our people—the British people—are able to live their lives and enjoy their futures. It is intended to erode our liberties so that a few rich men in Beijing and Moscow can enjoy their stolen goods and make sure that they sleep at night.
That is not acceptable. We were not elected to this place and charged with being here to sacrifice the freedoms of the British people to a couple of despots in Beijing or Moscow. Standing up with our allies and friends around the world is exactly what we should be doing, but again, this is not just about them, because the techniques that we are seeing in Taiwan and Ukraine are spreading here.
Today, like every day, businesses and individuals in Taipei and across the island will be the subject of quite literally millions of cyber-attacks. They are under such intense assault that it is very difficult to understand how many routine operations can continue, and yet they do. We are seeing the same type of assaults here in the UK—not the same volume, but the same type—and we therefore have a lot to learn from Taiwan in how it resists. The same is true in Ukraine, where we are seeing Russia learning a whole new way of doing warfare by interrupting everything from the electricity grid to the communications networks in order to undermine the capability of the state and society to hold together.
But we are also seeing that here in the UK and that brings me to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton so rightly made. We are seeing an erosion of our own freedoms here in the UK, and not just through the dirty money that the Foreign Affairs Committee has been so clear in calling out since 2018. Indeed, I see on the Opposition Front Bench the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), who was on the Foreign Affairs Committee at the time—promotion for some!
We have been calling this out for a long time because it is fundamentally undermining the prosperity and happiness of the British people. We are seeing properties being over-inflated in value. We are seeing assets being used to undermine us, not to support us. We are seeing assets of community value—football teams and businesses—being used effectively as a piggybank from which cash can be removed on future occasions for pay for operations on behalf of a state that thinks nothing of attempting to murder the Prime Minister of Montenegro, actually murdering a citizen in the United Kingdom using a nuclear substance, using chemical weapons on the streets of Salisbury, blowing up an arms dump in Prague, and threatening literally thousands of people with cold and famine by trafficking them and forcing them into the forests around Belarus to use as weapons against the people of Poland and Lithuania. This is not a co-operative state; it is a hostile state and these are its actions. Here, we need to do more about it. We need to stop the dirty money, which we have called for, but we need to go further, because we are also—this is the tragedy—seeing the erosion of the liberty of some British people. The freedoms that we value are the freedoms that we need to stand for.
Yesterday, sadly, for the 100th or 200th time—I cannot remember how many—I spoke to some students who told me that their debates in their universities were silenced. They said that people were not willing to speak out or to stand up for what they knew was true because they would face the pressure of the Ministry of State Security, China’s enforcement arm, in silencing them in debate here in the UK. I spoke to them about the nature of this interference and they said that sadly it often comes from a fellow student or from a teacher or lecturer who is connected in some way to the state. We are seeing the erosion of the liberty of British citizens and of those who have come here seeking that liberty, whichever country they come from, because we are sadly not robust enough in standing up for it.
We need to close down the Confucius Institutes. They are agencies of a hostile state through the United Front Work Department—an organisation that we in this House have grown used to in recent days because of the works of Christine Lee, who we were all warned about. We have got used to the actions that it has been taking in seeking influence, in the most extraordinary propaganda operation that the world has ever seen, and we have got used to the pernicious effect on our own community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton spoke about the theft of intellectual property—some of it, sadly, intellectual property that should remain secret. She is absolutely right. Defending state secrets is, after all, an essential role of government. But defending the liberty of British people to study and learn ideas of any kind, of any form, in a free environment at a university or a school, is surely even more fundamental than that. We must maintain absolute freedom of our people to express their views, whether on Tibet, as my hon. Friend did, on the status of Hong Kong, or, as officials in Beijing did only the other day, on the status of the Falkland Islands. They can express their views however they wish. Silencing debate undermines us and erodes freedom. It also erodes our path to the future.
Let me tell the House why I am still optimistic, despite that catalogue of crimes that I think have been committed against us. When I look forward, I see beacons like Taiwan as a demonstration that, actually, free people choose freedom. I see an example showing that Chinese society and culture, in different forms, are intrinsically at home with liberty. I see the writings in the universal declaration of human rights—written by an ambassador from China, P.C. Chang—and I see the rights that are literally encoded in the fundamental documents of the international community. I therefore see the hope that the attempts of the Chinese state—the Communist party—to silence these people will eventually fail, because they will.
What we are seeing coming out of Taiwan is another example of why those attempts will fail. Many people will know that TSMC, the Taiwanese semiconductor chip manufacturer, constitutes an extraordinary demonstration of innovation and capability on the island. It is a fantastic example of the meeting of science and craft, in that it brings together the skills of innovation and the skills of creation. I think it fair to say that it is now one of the keystones of the global economy. Delays caused to its output by various water issues and other problems had a direct effect on the manufacturing of cars and kettles, even here in the UK. It is essential to our global economy, and it is telling that its extraordinary success is based on the free ideas and the creativity that are needed—or, rather, can only be achieved—in a free society. This is a very good reminder that liberty does not just feed the soul; it feeds the pocket, and it feeds prosperity for everyone.
We see people around the world making choices. We see the migrant routes out of various parts of the world, and we see where those migrants go. There are not that many who think that China or Russia is a good idea, but there are many who choose freedom in countries such ours. When I see the threats that are ranged before us, I feel that what we are seeing coming out of Beijing today, and what we are seeing coming out of Moscow today, is much more in keeping with Shakespeare’s King Lear than with Henry V.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
I am reluctant to intervene on a substantial speech in a field about which my hon. Friend is very knowledgeable. May I suggest, however, that the principal challenge for any Government when it comes to foreign affairs is fundamentally to deal with the world as it is, while also working for the world that we would wish for, and without inadvertently making it worse in so doing?
If my hon. Friend agrees with me on that point, does he also agree that the status quo in the constitutional position of the Republic of China, i.e. Taiwan, has actually enabled it to flourish in its evolution as a peaceful and successful democracy, within which its relationship with us has strengthened considerably over recent time? Does he agree that in all of this, our shared values help to shape that relationship—and the fact that we are at the scoping stage of a Westminster Foundation for Democracy programme in Taiwan is one example of this—but that we should do nothing that might inadvertently trigger a reaction by China that would be good neither for the Chinese nor for us, and considering changing the name of their representation in the UK would be precisely such a measure?
I entirely respect my hon. Friend’s position. As he knows, we have had many discussions on a similar basis and on a similar note outside this place. He is right that we have to deal with the world as it is and gently encourage it to be the world that it should be—it is safe to say that neither of us is a revolutionary. The work that my hon. Friend does with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is so important, because it builds on the essential liberty of people and on the fundamental principle that P. C. Chang embedded into the universal declaration of human rights: that of respect for individual choice and that a community should be able to choose its own destiny.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not for me to tell the Republic of China (Taiwan) how it wishes to name itself and what it wishes to choose, but nor is it for Beijing. It is for the people on the island of Taiwan to decide for themselves how they wish to shape their future. We here recognise that principle not just in overseas jurisdictions such as the Falkland Islands; we even recognised it in 2014 in respect of part of our integral United Kingdom. Although my hon. Friend and I were on the same side of the argument then and some on the Opposition Benches were on the other side, we all recognised the sovereignty of the people of these islands to choose the shape of their liberty and the way in which they expressed the community to which they felt they belonged. If we recognised that freedom even when it hurt us most and when it cost us dearest, why should we not recognise it for people who have absolutely the same inherent rights as anybody on these islands and have, indeed, demonstrated time and again that they have not only the capability but the will to express their freedom through democracy and to choose leaders whom we sometimes like and sometimes do not? Surely it is up to them, not up to Beijing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but of course it is important to realise that Taiwan’s excellent President has deliberately avoided making any call for independence. The House should reflect on that in terms of our own position.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why I repeat my statement: it is not for me to change the name of the representative of the island here, but it is for me to recognise that the people of that island have the right to choose.
We can, at this point, get into a different debate about Lithuania. I pay huge tribute to Mr Landsbergis, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister, for his courage in standing up against the bullying of Beijing. He has demonstrated that many larger countries that currently bow down and pretend they do not have a choice actually do have a choice. Lithuania may have a great past in which it was a huge grand duchy, but the reality of the size of the state today is that it is not one of the P5. Yet Lithuania has taken the courageous decision to defend itself.
I will close my speech with this last point: over the past four or five years we have seen an evolution of pressure on us and others around the world that is undermining democracy, that is eroding our freedoms and that imperils our economic future. This is a choice for us all. The decision to stand with free peoples in Taiwan and Ukraine is about standing up for our own liberties and freedoms. That is why the House is right to push for it and the Government are right to back it.
Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this important debate.
Taiwan has made significant progress while the People’s Republic of China has stalled. While China remains an authoritarian state, shrouded in secrecy and frequently accused of human rights abuses, Taiwan has taken the necessary steps to grow into something much more aligned with our modern-day values. Taiwan enjoys high levels of press freedom, unlike the PRC; has committed to important climate goals that are more ambitious than the PRC’s; and has built an inclusive and tolerant society. Taiwan has freedom of religious belief and is the only country in Asia to have legalised LGBTQ+ marriage.
Such extensive reforms mean that Taiwan is now categorised as a full democracy, ranking as the No. 1 democracy in Asia and the 11th worldwide, according to The Economist’s democracy index. It is impressive progress and further illustrates that Taiwan deserves, and has earned, a seat at the table.
Continuing to support Taiwan’s participation in international forums with only observer status is no longer enough. We should be leading from the front on the issue, not only by calling for it to be meaningfully included in the United Nations system, but by asking the international community to join us in those calls. With its rich cultural diversity and policy expertise, there is much it could contribute if it were allowed to. For example, its national health insurance scheme is internationally recognised as a model national healthcare system with good accessibility and national coverage, yet it is still excluded from the World Health Assembly.
As the seventh-largest economy in Asia, and the 21st globally, strong trade ties between the UK and Taiwan would be economically hugely mutually beneficial. Being Scottish, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the value of Scotch whisky. In 2020, it was the fourth-largest international market for the drink. In that year, the value of Scottish goods exports to Taiwan was about £206 million, which is the second-highest region in the UK as defined by Department for International Trade statistics. From a moral perspective, it would exemplify our core trading principles of democracy and human rights.
Strengthening our diplomatic ties would serve to strengthen defence and security measures too. China continues to modernise its military. The Government admit that
“China’s…growing international assertiveness will pose an increasing risk to UK interests.”
China has made flagrant incursions into Taiwan’s waters and airspace in a way that could be defined as aggressive.
I am cautious of conflating two different issues, but it is difficult to set aside the current political context of the tension on the borders of Ukraine. President Xi Jinping has given President Putin his support in his campaign against an expansion of NATO, which further aligns the two nations in the face of tension with the west. Although there are clear differences between Ukraine and Taiwan in their history, current political climate and hypothetical international responses, the basic issue of sovereignty remains at the heart of both. As long as Russia and China align themselves, the world will wonder what there is to gain and why China is watching what happens in Ukraine so closely.
The Government take the stance that relations in the Taiwan strait should be resolved through constructive dialogue and that it is not the UK’s place to intervene unnecessarily, but we should recognise the benefits of supporting Taiwan’s future development and take the steps to do it. The Government should not support the oppression of any independent states by authoritarian Governments whether proactively or, as is the case here, passively. I look forward to hearing the Minister set out the Government’s position on the continuing co-operation and friendship between the UK and Taiwan.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
As the chair of the British-Taiwanese all-party parliamentary group, of course I have become concerned at the growing intimidation that the country is experiencing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) outlined so well. Taiwan is one of the UK’s most stalwart supporters and trading partners, and it donated more than 1 million masks to our NHS during the covid crisis, which is a very decent thing to do.
We have already heard that about 23.5 million people live in Taiwan. We have also heard that it is a fully functioning democracy. It has a very good record of holding free and fair elections and there has not been much time since it started doing so. When those elections occur, and one party loses, the transfer of power is pretty smooth, which is not often the case in many other countries in Asia.
We have also heard that, diplomatically, Taiwan is banned from United Nations membership. We chucked it out—it was us. We effectively chucked it out of the Security Council; that is the end of it. I understand why it happened, but we were part of that movement. It has also been expelled from the observer status it held in the World Health Organisation. Again, the medical teams it sends out when there is a disaster are world beating. Those teams are first rate.
China consistently opposes anything Taiwan does. For instance, it refuses to accept Taiwanese passports and denies entry to any international forum where it has influence—and that is quite a lot of them now. Economically, China is perfectly willing to accept Taiwanese money to invest in the country, but it refuses to accept or allow any other commercial activity from the island. At the same time, we have heard from many other hon. Members that Taiwan is under constant and unmitigated cyber-attack from China, reaching into every aspect of Taiwanese society.
There is now a large British business presence in Taiwan; UK investment in Taiwan reached £450 million in 2020, covering a wide range of sectors, from financial services to pharmaceuticals, from information and communications technology to offshore wind. As we have Scottish representatives here, I must say that Taiwan whisky was voted the world’s best three years running: there is currently Kavalan in my office and I very much enjoy it. [Interruption.] Is that an intervention from my good friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)? No? Let me carry on.
Currently, I gather, British companies are investing in 1,307 projects in Taiwan. We have also heard that in September last year, Taiwan submitted its application to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We are planning to join that too, and I very much hope the Minister will confirm that we would support Taiwan’s membership.
Militarily—I have looked at this quite a lot over the past few years—the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is having its defence expenditure increased by about 10% a year, year on year. It is reorganising. My hon. Friend the Member for—
Tonbridge and Malling.
Dear me, I am so sorry. I should know that. It is not far away. He made the point that the army is reorganising for expeditionary warfare, meaning amphibious landings, even though Taiwan is 100 miles away. I am particularly worried about the way the islands and atolls, which we have not mentioned, in the South China sea are being colonised—and I do use that word, colonised. They are being occupied, expanded and militarised. In truth, they are well outside China’s traditional area of interest. The Chinese intention is clear: to make the whole South China sea national waters of China.
In the air, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force crossed the median line of the Taiwan strait 950 times in 2021, a 150% increase in air activity over the previous year. Since 1 January, I gather there have been 143 intrusions in just over a month. It particularly worries me that the No. 1 openly expressed aim of Chinese policy is to take back Taiwan. Indeed, Peter Dutton, the Defence Minister of Australia, has openly declared that he believes the Chinese will be going into Taiwan very soon. What does “going into Taiwan” mean? To me, it could mean a military invasion. So there is a growing and present threat to Taiwan from mainland China, and of course that should worry us. It worries us because 40% of the world’s trade transits through the South China sea. What happens in those crucial trade groups must be of great concern to us.
As a soldier I served in Hong Kong. I thought it was a great place, fabulous. It used to share our values of civil liberty, democracy and the rule of law, but recently all that is fast disappearing. In the region, Taiwan remains a beacon of democracy. It also has huge strategic importance. I believe it is in the frontline of the global struggle to resist authoritarian efforts to undermine human rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech, which my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling outlined much better than I could. I agree that it is very good news that Taiwan that has now legalised LGBTQ marriage. It is the only country in Asia that has, by the way.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
I am enormously grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. What he is putting so well is the very many shared values we have with Taiwan, the sort of freedom, openness and innovation that the people of Hong Kong used to enjoy as well. That is surely a template for what the Chinese Communist party would like to do with Taiwan if ever it had the opportunity to do so. Does he share my great fear? The great design of President Xi, as he has made no pretence of hiding, is what he calls the reunification of China, which could only mean bringing the freedom-loving and freedom-enjoying people of Taiwan under the jackboot of the Chinese Communist party, and inflict on them the same form of intimidation and oppression the people of Tibet, Xinjiang and now the people of Hong Kong are sadly seeing?
My very good and hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have said in the Chamber before that if China was to develop a model much like Taiwan, it would be to the benefit of China. Taiwan is the beacon. It is a hugely successful economy. It is good news that there are some 13,000 Taiwanese students in British universities, with 4,000 at postgraduate level. By way of return, which I think is very interesting, there are an increasing number of British students studying in Taiwan. They are mainly learning Mandarin, of course.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly raised Confucius Institutes. Members may not know that the country with the highest number of Confucius Institutes per head of population is Scotland. That should be of grave concern. Does my right hon. Friend think that, given that Taiwanese people speak Mandarin and write a higher level of more ancient Chinese, we could perhaps look to them to provide more education in Mandarin in this country? Let me make one other quick point on drawing comparisons. Does he find it interesting that the Chinese Government have felt the need to sanction both Taiwanese and British parliamentarians? How shameful it is that they continue to attack our democracies.
The answer to both of my hon. Friend’s questions is yes and yes. I totally agree. I note that President Tsai Ing-wen has committed Taiwan to having Mandarin and English as dual official languages within eight years, which is tremendous.
I am conscious of time, and I have banged on for longer than I thought I would. [Hon. Members: “Never!”] I always do, for far too long. In summary, we and all people in the world who think like us should do everything we can to defend the democracy and values of Taiwan. Its security challenges and survival as a thriving, successful model mean a great deal to us and to the world.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) very much for her excellent introduction to the debate. The contributions so far have been enlightening. I must also thank the right hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for his contribution. On most occasions, he and I are on the same page on almost everything. I noted his comment about whiskey and understand that Bushmills whiskey from Northern Ireland is one of the best sellers in Taiwan, so perhaps we have strong economic relations as well.
I assure the hon. Member, who is a very good friend, that I also have Black Bush—a Northern Irish whiskey—in my office and have always had a sample of it for 35 years.
I am not surprised—by the way, I suspect that it is half-empty. [Interruption.] Perhaps more than half. In seriousness, the debate is about strengthening the ties between Taiwan and the UK, and I am proud to be associated with Taiwan, which is a bastion of freedom in an oppressed area. Taiwan stands out clearly to me, to all those who have spoken and to all who will speak after as a bastion of democracy and liberty. Information kindly provided to me highlights that, since the 1980s, Taiwan has overseen democratic reforms. Significantly, in 2020, it rose 20 places in The Economist democracy index to 11th worldwide, which shows its commitment to liberty, freedom and democracy.
Taiwan ranks as the No. 1 democracy in Asia, with The Economist describing it as 2020’s “star performer” and upgrading it to the “full democracy” category. It is in the interests of the UK and all liberal democracies to promote peace and stability in the region, especially as the UK increases its level of engagement with the Indo-Pacific region and aims to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It seems to me, as Member of Parliament for Strangford and on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, that our relationship with Taiwan is incredibly good and perhaps we can build on it.
In building a network of liberty, Taiwan has become the frontline of democracy against China’s expanding authoritarianism, and I stand with Taiwan in that aim. I absolutely love the Olympics and follow it every morning, looking for those medals to come—so far, they have not, but we live in hope—but I watch our great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland team at the Winter Olympics in the knowledge of China’s ongoing treatment of the Uyghurs, the Christians, the Tibetans and the Falun Gong practitioners. My friend the Labour spokesperson, the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), and I have spoken about this very issue on many occasions and, whether it is in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, we are on the same page. It concerns me greatly that China’s expansionism and imperialistic goals are at the expense of those Christians and other ethnic minorities. We see those who happen to have a different religious outlook or view on the world subjected to commercial-level organ transplantation.
Although we are focusing on UK-Taiwan friendship and co-operation today, I am conscious that at the same time there is an axis of evil, to which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton referred: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea—four countries, two of which are trying to perfect nuclear power and two of which already have. I am incredibly worried about that. For instance, I understand that in the last week Iran has perfected a missile that can travel 900 miles; North Korea is trying to do the same, although Russia and China are certainly behind on the expertise. But if those missiles can reach 900 miles, they can strike at the heart of Israel and other western countries in the middle east. As the hon. Lady mentioned, the axis of evil shows that we need to have a steely reserve. Although we have seen some of that, I am not sure that we have seen enough. Quite honestly, we need to strike fear into the axis of evil to ensure that those countries understand that if they do something out of place, we will be in a position to strike back with the same intensity.
Way back in 2012 and 2013, I took part in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I have always remembered our visit to Kenya, because the roads built in Kenya in 2012 and 2013—and probably before—were built by the Chinese. The Chinese influence goes far beyond the far east to the middle east, Africa and South America, with China using vast amounts of finance to encourage countries to withdraw their allegiance or political support for Taiwan. Again, China is core to that axis of evil.
When I see a nation like Taiwan, it is beyond difficult for me to understand how we could not do everything possible to strengthen the relationship—not simply to benefit our nation, but to support democracy in Taiwan. In the military sphere, there is a greater role for the UK to co-ordinate with the US, Japan and Australia, as it tilts to the Indo-Pacific. It is essential that Taiwan is a part of that delicate balance. We must ensure that Taiwan knows that we are on its page and are there to support it.
Over the course of 2021, there were 950 intrusions by People’s Liberation Army Air Force military planes into the Taiwan zone, which is an 150% increase on the 380 sorties recorded in 2020. In January 2022, there were 143 intrusions within 24 days. There is a consistent and worrying build-up in such cases. Looking at the aircraft that China is sending in gives us an idea that its intentions could well be destruction, evil and murder. The military aircraft used in these activities include, but are not limited to: the H-6 strategic bomber; JH-7 fighter jets; reconnaissance models; and the Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft. Those are all part of the influence of that country.
It is clear that things are escalating, and our support for Taiwan is necessary not simply from the perspective of military aid, but because we rely on Taiwan to be able to carry out its business. For instance, Taiwan is estimated to account for a fifth of global chip manufacturing and half of all cutting-edge capacity. Our dependence on Taiwan is important for us in the free world—not just for us here in the UK, but for everyone. Any action that could impact Taiwan’s production and disrupt that vital global supply chain would be of concern to the UK and the whole world.
Total trade in goods and services—exports plus imports—between the UK and Taiwan was £8 billion in the four quarters to the end of quarter 3, 2021. That was an increase of 14.4% or £999 million on the four quarters to the end of quarter 3, 2020. Our trade with Taiwan is important and growing, and can continue to grow. Taiwanese companies have invested in 222 projects in the United Kingdom. British companies have invested in a total of 1,307 projects in Taiwan.
We already have a clear and vital relationship, which we can—and must—build on. The message from this House today is clear from me, my party and as part of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: we stand with Taiwan, be assured of that. We are committed to Taiwan physically, emotionally, financially and culturally, and we hope that economically we can grow. We must not allow the independence of this stalwart nation to be overcome. Rather than lament the further erosion of democracy, now is the time to strengthen mutually beneficial ties, and to keep an eye on the long game. We are in the business of the long game, and we have got to get it right.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on leading this debate today to discuss British-Taiwanese relations. It is a true friend to our country, and it is high time that we discussed it on the Floor of the House. Taiwan is a beacon of liberty, freedom and democracy in a region of the world overshadowed by a larger neighbour that has demonstrated, time and again, total disregard for human rights and freedoms.
The United Kingdom shares a deep and enduring relationship with Taiwan. Taiwan is a true friend to the United Kingdom. We share the same values. We enjoy close bilateral co-operation, and Taiwan is one of our most significant trading partners. Taiwan is exactly the kind of sovereign, forward-looking, collaborative nation that global Britain should be forging stronger ties with. Now that Britain is free of the constraints of the European Union, I urge the Minister for Asia, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), to make it one of her priorities.
From its exemplary response to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, to its pioneering work in technology, Taiwan is a country to emulate and one that the United Kingdom should certainly be working together with much more closely. In contrast, the People’s Republic of China is, to be clear, a totalitarian, anti-democratic, communist state that continues its threatening campaign of fear and intimidation against the people of Taiwan.
James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
I agree completely with what my hon. Friend is saying. Taiwan is one of the great success stories of the far east. It has a multicultural liberal democracy, a growing economy, fantastic trade and many political freedoms and press freedoms. It is superbly championed worldwide, not least by the excellent Taipei representative in London. Does my hon. Friend agree that Taiwan should be celebrated and not threatened?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Taiwan is a model of a country that has succeeded against all the odds. It is a nation that should be upheld as a great example of what can be achieved in a part of the world where there are so many failing countries. Taiwan has bucked the trend and proved that it can be successful, so I hope that in this House today we will celebrate Taiwan and all its achievements.
In 2022, the behaviour by the People’s Republic of China, and how it threatens Taiwan, is completely unacceptable, and the United Kingdom must stand shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan. I hope that today in this House we can restate our strong friendship and commitment to Taiwan and the magnificent Taiwanese people. For me, it has always felt wrong that the United Kingdom does not have any formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and no official embassy while, at the same time, China can use economic leverage to bludgeon other states to cut ties with Taiwan.
It was our former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who visited Taiwan in 1992 and hailed Taiwan’s rapid democratisation and the Taiwanese miracle. She recognised Taiwan for what it still is: an example of how freedom has triumphed. Some years later, in 2013, the Taiwanese ambassador’s exclusion from Lady Thatcher’s funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral—decided by the Cabinet Office, I have to say, and despite my personal efforts and appeals to Ministers at that time—was a stark demonstration of the vindictive effect of China’s insistence that Taiwan should be completely excluded from any kind of diplomatic representation.
The Chinese Communist party operates indirectly, cutting off Taiwan’s support networks and isolating it diplomatically. It cannot be right to force a country such as Taiwan, which, to all intents and purposes, is an independent, democratic, sovereign state, to operate permanently under the terms of another hostile country. The CCP should not be able to dictate Taiwan’s bilateral relations with any other state in a world where self-determination of peoples is something that we all expect, or so I thought. It is a right. It is time that the western democracies looked afresh at the policy of not allowing Taiwan the diplomatic presence it needs and truly deserves.
I pay tribute to the work of His Excellency Ambassador Kelly, and his incredible and dedicated team who operate the Taipei representative office in London, for building ever stronger relations with the United Kingdom. If ever there was an example of an ambassador who works extremely hard to build a relationship with our country, it is Ambassador Kelly. I thank him for all he does to build those friendships and relationships with the peoples of this United Kingdom. I thank his staff for all their work with parliamentarians on both sides of the House, particularly the British-Taiwanese all-party group; they do a magnificent job. As vice-chairman of the all-party group, and indeed president of Conservative Friends of Taiwan, I am proud to have worked with Ambassador Kelly and all his predecessors for around three decades, ever since the Free Chinese Centre existed in London way back in the 1980s. My friendship with Taiwan goes back all that way, and I am very proud of it.
I have had the honour of visiting Taiwan on many occasions. My first visit was in 1998, when I was there as chairman of the International Young Democrat Union, the global right-of-centre youth organisation. I worked closely with the Kuomintang, which was then in power. More recently, in 2017, I led a delegation of the UK Parliament to Taiwan through the all-party group. I was privileged to meet President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s very own Iron Lady, who takes no nonsense from Beijing, and rightly so. I also recently met the Deputy Foreign Minister of Taiwan during his visit to London just prior to Christmas.
It is clear that dialogue and diplomacy are the greatest tools in our arsenal to support the people of Taiwan, and it is essential that we continue these exchanges. I commend and support my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee—so ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who spoke earlier in this debate—and I wish them Godspeed as they visit Taiwan in a couple of weeks. I am only sorry that I will not be joining them on this occasion, but I have visited many times and hope to do so again.
Today, China casts a long red shadow over Taiwan. I believe it is our duty to stand with Taiwan alongside the United States of America, our European allies and our friends in the Asia-Pacific region, India, Australia and Japan, to defend the freedom of the Taiwanese people against any possible aggression that threatens Taiwan’s democratic way of life. The crackdown in Hong Kong shows China’s willingness to repudiate democracy and install its own authoritarian rule, despite international condemnation and opposition, so we must treat any assault on Taiwan as a direct assault on our own liberal democracy. We cannot walk by on the other side; we must stand with Taiwan. We must also ensure that the light of democracy shines through. Indeed, the white sun of the Taiwanese flag reminds us that the ideals of liberty and freedom must always prevail.
Strengthening our relationship further will send an unambiguous signal to China that aggression will not be tolerated. In this vein, I ask the Minister: why should Taiwan not be allowed to participate in the World Health Organisation, Interpol and the different bodies within the United Nations, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation? I hope that Taiwan, together with us, will be joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—two great free trading nations joining together—and why not observer membership of the Commonwealth? We have heard already about English becoming a dual common language of Taiwan, so why not at least observer status in the Commonwealth? Would that not be a great symbol of friendship between Britain, the Commonwealth and the people of Taiwan?
This is the 21st century, and Taiwan’s exclusion is shocking and, quite frankly, dangerous. Taiwan demonstrated its value early in 2020. It raised concerns that covid-19 could be spread through person-to-person transmission before the People’s Republic of China did, yet that is where the virus originated. The implementation of a virus screening programme for international arrivals meant that the coronavirus was contained without resorting to full lockdowns. The world should have learnt from Taiwan in those early days of the pandemic, but not being part of the WHO, its early warning was downplayed. This example illustrates that these are crucial organisations that Taiwan should be involved in, for the benefit of its own people, for their safety and security, and the rest of the world, too. Why should it not be there, participating as a player in that organisation?
We need Taiwan to play its part in the exchange of ideas and to share its technical knowledge and expertise. The people of Taiwan also demonstrated their commitment to the friendship with the United Kingdom when they donated 1 million surgical masks to our NHS at a time of critical need. They have our gratitude, which demonstrates the character and virtue of the close ties with Taiwan.
The United Kingdom must now focus on developing a free exchange of goods and ideas, technological innovation, mutual support and co-operation with our Taiwanese friends. There should be no reason why Britain should not also quickly pursue a free trade agreement with Taiwan, so let us make that a priority in the coming years. Free trade and democracy will continue to bind us together and strengthen a dynamic, forward-looking relationship with Taiwan, as we seize the new opportunities for collaboration that I believe lie before us.
Let me conclude by wishing the people of Taiwan good fortune, good health and prosperity for the lunar new year. In this the year of the tiger, let us this day send the people of Taiwan a clear and unambiguous message that they have and will continue to have the steadfast and unwavering support of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this important debate, and thank everyone who has spoken in it. Taiwan, though it may not be large, is very important economically—a point that has been made—morally and politically, because it developed into a flourishing, genuine, established democracy at a time when many countries in the region went in the opposite direction. It is a peaceful democracy that makes no aggressive territorial claims on its neighbours and poses no threat to any of them. That, of course, is in great contrast to those who make aggressive territorial claims on Taiwan. That is why we should stand foursquare in support of Taiwan. We ought to be supportive of those who embrace values of democracy and freedom, and who wish to co-exist peacefully with others, secure prosperity for themselves, and contribute to the greater global good, which is what Taiwan has always sought to do.
I declare my interest as a member of the British-Taiwanese all-party parliamentary group. I, too, have had the pleasure of visiting it, and have met many Taiwanese representatives when they have come here, and I, too, salute the work of Ambassador Kelly and the Taipei representative office in the UK. He and his predecessors—we have had a number of representatives over the years—have done great work for their country, and to improve our relations.
I appreciate that the exclusion of Taiwan from many international organisations is unjust, unfair and unhelpful to the greater good. Changing that is not unilaterally in this country’s gift, but I hope that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue to make the case for that, and to seek to build a coalition with our democratic allies and partners in order to achieve that objective. We have to be persistent on that. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, we must never give up hope that decency and freedom will ultimately prevail against the forces of darkness, which are unfortunately in coalition against us.
I want to talk about the importance of Taiwan’s evolution; under Chiang Kai-shek, in the early days of the Kuomintang, it was a frankly autocratic society that did not always respect the rule of law, though there was nothing like the appalling behaviour on mainland China after the civil war. Taiwan was able to move away from that without disruption or violence. It became a functioning democracy that respects the rule of law and has established a vibrant, independent judiciary and legal framework. When I had the pleasure of visiting Taiwan, I had the honour of meeting President Tsai, whom I greeted as a fellow alumnus of the London School of Economics, where she did a doctorate of philosophy in law; she trained as a lawyer.
Taiwan has developed a vigorous and robust legal system. Since the 1990s, it has increasingly asserted the independence of the judiciary from the other arms of the state. In fact, the independent justice movement of the 1990s was one of the beacons that led to the democratisation of Taiwan’s society. Many of its leading lights were lawyers and jurists. That demonstrates the importance internationally of commitment to independent judges, courts and lawyers, and the rule of law. Taiwan has moved in exactly the direction that we should encourage others to take.
It is interesting that, since 2002, Taiwan has moved from having an inquisitorial system in criminal cases to something much closer to the adversarial system with which we in common-law countries are familiar—a system in which both sides have the right to be represented by counsel. I hope that we will continue to use the fact that we are the birthplace of common law and of that adversarial criminal justice system to try to assist Taiwan and build bridges. I hope that we can encourage British lawyers to develop partnerships with Taiwanese lawyers, and can build on the work of our further education contacts. The President is a great example of that, and of soft power. I hope, too, that we can encourage the work of the British Council, whose representatives I had the pleasure of meeting in Taipei, because it is an important means of developing those contacts, which we do not always make enough of.
Taiwan has undertaken further reforms in this field. In 2006, it abolished the regrettable mandatory death penalty for certain classes of offence, which it inherited in the days immediately after the war. In fact, there has been an almost complete cessation in the use of the death penalty in recent years, with one unfortunate exception, and there is still a vigorous and active campaign to support that change.
In 2009, Taiwan ratified the international covenant on civil and political rights and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, which sets it apart from those who aggressively assert claims against it. A threshold for joining those covenants was an acceptance that Taiwan was on an
“irrevocable path towards complete eradication of the death penalty.”
Moving forward, we see a progressive and, in the proper sense, small-l liberal polity and system, which we ought to be supporting.
It is important to recognise, as has already been observed, the progress that Taiwan has made in relation to same-sex marriages and equal rights for LGBT communities. Generally, it has a good position, compared with many of its neighbours, on the index of commitment to the rule of law. That is something we should continue to sustain. As we go forward, I hope we can build upon those links.
Contrast has been made frequently to what has sadly happened in Hong Kong. I have had the pleasure of visiting that jurisdiction too, and it is a sadness to me, as when I read law at the London School of Economics a number of my colleagues went on to qualify as barristers in the United Kingdom, before returning to practice at the Hong Kong Bar. Some went on to hold distinguished office in the Hong Kong judiciary. They did so at a time when they still had the protection of the agreements we had entered into to ensure Hong Kong’s independent legal system. Sadly, those have been unliterally abrogated by the Government of the People’s Republic of China. I never want to see that happen to the legal system in Taiwan. I privately weep, almost, for some of my friends who stayed in their country, but who now see their freedom of action and manoeuvre as lawyers increasingly constrained, and a stranglehold put on what was once the most vibrant and successful legal and judicial system to be found in that part of south-east Asia. We must not let that happen to Taiwan.
That is why not only shall we stand four-square with the Taiwanese in political and moral terms, but, where necessary, without seeking to start aggression, we will ensure that military and naval force is available to deter aggression by others, and we will work closely with our allies, including Australia and others in that area. If we believe in democracy, the importance of the rule of law, human rights and personal freedoms, Taiwan is a beacon that we shall support.
It is important that we have this debate and we place this motion on the record. As a country, we have always sought to assert these things, sometimes with more success than at other times, but they are basically in our DNA. With the dispensation we have now in Taiwan, that is something we share with the Taiwanese people, who have worked hard to achieve that, at real sacrifice to themselves, over the years. It is important that we reassert our commitment to stand by them, against those who seek to snuff out the lights of freedom and justice. We must never allow that to happen.
Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on securing this important debate.
I genuinely consider it an honour and a pleasure to be speaking on my party’s behalf in this debate. Before we had decided I would do so, I had already asked to speak in the debate, having visited Taiwan as part of an international youth culture and study tour back in 2013—believe it or not, I still qualified under the term “youth” at that stage—along with my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). We had a wonderful two-week official visit and then some of us stayed on for a number of days to further experience the culture and landscapes of Taiwan, across Taipei, Taichung and Tainan. So it is a wonderful opportunity to take part in the debate today.
One of the most important aspects of this debate is democracy and the principle of self-determination. Hugh MacDiarmid once wrote of Robert Burns:
“Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name than in ony’s, barrin liberty and Christ.”
The same, in some senses, could be said about self-determination, so lest it become a buzzword, let us remind ourselves of exactly what that means: it is a group of people’s right to determine how and by whom they wish to be governed. What that means in practice is that when we stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression, we stand for self-determination. When the UK reminds Argentina about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, we are standing for self-determination. When the Scottish Government assert that Scots deserve the right to have a say in our future by voting for a pro-independence Government, as they did last year, we are asserting our right to self-determination. We do not get to pick and choose who is allowed self-determination. The whole principle is that we accept that when the people choose what they want as their course for the future. Therefore, if we accept that Ukraine has self-determination, and that the Falklands has it, Scotland has it and so does Taiwan. No ifs, and no buts.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s views about self-determination, but would he accept that both the Falkland Islands and Scotland have had referendums in recent years? The people of Taiwan have never had a referendum, but perhaps they should. If they had a referendum, they could determine their own destiny.
Where I would agree with the hon. Gentleman is that if the people of Taiwan wanted to have a referendum—and it is entirely a matter for the people of Taiwan—I would be 100% behind it. I think people would be astonished to find any disagreement about that among SNP Members. However, self-determination is not a one-time event, one vote and that is the end of it; self-determination is an ongoing process. That is why the SNP believes that an important consideration in determining how Taiwan is governed is what the people of Taiwan want, and how they express those desires at the ballot box.
Viewers in Scotland will already be well acquainted with the double standards of the UK Government when it comes to Scottish self-determination, but at times the Government also fall short of honouring that important principle when it comes to Taiwan. The UK does not recognise Taiwan enough and, as we have heard, there are no formal diplomatic relations with the island. That is something that could be simply looked at and corrected.
It has been deeply heartening to hear so many Conservatives throughout this debate champion the idea of self-determination. Given that there is no international court of arbitration to determine self-determination for countries such as Tibet, is it not all the more important for countries such as the UK to stand up, and for their Governments to be not cowardly but outspoken in supporting those peoples?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is critical that the UK Government lead by example. If we say that we support the right of people to choose, we must demonstrate that we support the right of people to choose. An SNP-led independent Scotland would support Taiwanese accession to multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation, recognising Taiwanese wishes to be an active and co-operative global player. Our friendship runs deep and goes beyond the principles of democracy and how we practise it.
We have already heard from many about the huge democratic reforms that have taken place in Taiwan from the ’80s through to the current day, and about the major progress that now sees Taiwan highlighted as a star performer and the No.1 democracy in Asia. However, Taiwan’s deepening democracy chimes with the Scottish Government’s agenda, with both Scotland and Taiwan seeking to broaden and deepen democratic participation. There is a lot we can learn from each other, such as Taiwan’s world-leading efforts to leverage technology and citizen participation into a system of digital democracy, which was most recently credited with containing covid in Taiwan.
Speaking of covid, we have heard about Taiwan’s handling of the pandemic and how exemplary it has been, despite its having only observer status rather than full membership of the WHO. When it comes to technology, it cannot be overstated how important the Taiwanese technological sector is for Scotland and the UK. Semiconductor chips—a resource now essential to all our online lifestyles—are overwhelmingly made in Taiwan, so trade link security is vital. The Scottish Government recognised this and opened a virtual Scottish Development International office in Taipei. Scotland has a positive story to tell on trade with Taiwan, and there are many areas of potential growth w full trading powers after independence. To name a few sectors with huge potential for trade and co-operation, we need look no further than the UK’s list of market access ambitions following the 24th annual UK-Taiwan trade talks: energy, offshore wind power, financial services, agriculture and whisky. These are all Scottish specialties.
As a fan of a malt myself, I cannot help but mention that, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, Taiwan was the fourth largest export destination for Scotch whisky by value in 2020, so slàinte to that. I particularly enjoy Taiwanese whisky, which has a very distinct taste—there is a certain sweetness that is not there in some of the single malts from up the road.
Trade opportunities are, of course, supplemented by academic collaboration. Between 7,000 and 8,000 Taiwanese students study in the UK each year, and Taiwan’s aim to become a society that is fully bilingual in English and Mandarin will make collaboration even easier.
The parallels between Scotland and Taiwan, and our shared ambitions, also extend to our climate priorities. The Taiwanese Government have committed to achieving net zero by 2050, with a target of 25% renewable energy by 2025. British Office Taipei has promoted UK offshore wind companies, many from Scotland, to Taiwanese partners. There is also scope for climate co-operation with the Scottish Government’s ScotWind strategy. Scottish Development International is exploring the possibility of a strategic partnership with Taiwan that would allow renewable energy supply chain companies to access the Taiwanese market much more easily.
Among all this, we cannot avoid the elephant in the room. China’s current denial of Taiwan’s right to self-determination and its insistence that Taiwan is merely a stray province of the PRC is a major concern. All this puts Taiwan’s future at risk, and we have a moral obligation in this place to stand against it, as we do to protect the self-determination of all peoples and nations.
Taiwan’s principled moves set an example to Scotland that small states can punch well above their weight. In an increasingly fraught and global world, smaller does not have to mean weaker. We have concerns that the Government’s integrated review makes no mention of Taiwan, and I hope they will correct that omission by reflecting the importance of Taiwan in their China strategy. It is perplexing that Taiwan is not afforded due consideration in the Government’s most recent foreign policy document. I sincerely hope that concern will be seriously considered and acted on.
When I look back at my time in Taiwan, I think of the friends I made from South Africa, Norway, Sweden, St Kitts, Bermuda and across the globe. We had a wonderful time exchanging ideas and thoughts with each other, and these will always be friendships. To the people of Taiwan, I simply say, “Yŏngyuăn de péngyou.”
Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
Xièxie, wo men dōu shì péngyou. That was a lovely finish to the speech by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), and I am sure we could all practise our Mandarin.
A big thank you—a big xièxie—to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for, once again, securing an excellent Thursday debate that shows the importance of our Parliament to the Taiwanese Parliament and the Taiwanese people by putting on record our friendship. Our voices come from different political parties, but we are saying broadly the same thing about the importance of the deep and rich friendship between the UK and Taiwan.
Although the UK has no formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, we can be proud of the people-to-people relationships, of which we have heard, from people’s different trips according to different themes. Those relationships will transcend politics and diplomacy. We have heard that British and Taiwanese students engage in fruitful and mutually beneficial exchange programmes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said, our businesses work closely to invest in the technologies of the future. Our doctors and scientists co-operate on how to learn and treat illnesses such as covid, which Taiwan has done so well to handle without the level of death and disruption experienced by so many other countries across the globe.
On a broader level, we can say with some confidence that Taiwan is a beacon of liberty in the Asia-Pacific. It was the first Asian country to recognise same-sex marriage. It is a vibrant and functioning multi-party liberal democracy with a booming tech sector and a free press. It is a recognised global leader in health and education. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) gave us an important lesson in the progress that has been made from the days of the Kuomintang all the way through to today and the exchange that we can now have on the legal practices in the UK and in Taiwan. We also think about the sadness that we all share that, unfortunately, things could be going in reverse in Hong Kong, which is usually such a beacon of legal practice.
There are, however, clear and present challenges facing the people of Taiwan. The Chinese Government have made no attempt to disguise their willingness to use force to occupy Taipei if their persuasion on reunification fails. It is crucial that we use opportunities such as today to underline our resolve to stand with the people of Taiwan in the face of threats to their liberty and way of life, and to put on record our concern regarding the increase in military activity around the waters of Taiwan. We in this House should say with one voice that Taiwan’s future should never be settled by force or coercion.
Members from across the House have given examples of their connections with Taiwan and their friendships, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). I know that the Minister will want to respond in some depth to what has been raised. In particular, will she respond to the points that were made eloquently by the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) about the lack of an overarching strategy for the region? That is really what he was laying out, including the way in which this relates not just to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but goes across education, business and investment and the trade piece, so that we can have a genuinely cohesive strategy in future.
I have four quick questions for the Minister. The first is on Taiwan’s membership of international organisations. We have all mentioned that because when we have a global pandemic, such as the one we have all been through, it is crucial that we can learn from one another. We would all be the first to say that this goes beyond politics or diplomacy: to save lives, we must hear about best practice. That is what we have seen in the health system and the public health approach in Taiwan because of the experience of SARS— severe acute respiratory syndrome—and other public health challenges. It is terrible that it was frozen out of the World Health Assembly and other similar international bodies. Next time it will be a different challenge, but this is my first challenge to the Minister: will she outline the UK’s position on Taiwan’s membership of the World Health Assembly and other organisations? I urge her to join our allies in pressing for Taiwan’s inclusion.
Secondly, on the intimidation and threats facing Taiwan, I welcome the Government’s commitment to standing up for our allies that have a relationship with Taiwan—Lithuania was mentioned. There is a wider issue, however, of Chinese Government aggression aimed at Taiwan and its international relationships. Will the Minister outline the UK’s continued commitment to stand by our allies and protect their trading relationships with Taiwan?
Thirdly, as I have already highlighted, there is Taiwan’s status as a thriving high-tech economy. As the hon. Member for Midlothian commented, much of this somehow links in with Scotland, which is lovely to see: we have heard a lot about whisky but there are also wind farms and other things. Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to deepen and strengthen these mutually beneficial economic ties? I put on record our support for the Government’s continued desire to link trade with democracy and freedom, which is much more straightforward because we do not have to have difficult conversations about human rights issues.
Finally, will the Minister outline what positive steps are being taken to reaffirm and expand the welcome person-to-person links we have with Taiwan in education, science and business? For example, is the Turing scheme, the Government’s new post-Brexit education push, enjoying much linkage there? Within the strategy that the Government no doubt have, is there a link with Taiwanese universities and education, because clearly education plays a key role in reaffirming our friendship?
Today we have a strong chance to put on record that we stand in friendship with Taiwanese people. Many across the House have visited and have friends there, but even without having visited we can stand on the principle of friendship and an ongoing relationship with a fellow democracy.
The Minister for Asia (Amanda Milling)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for securing this debate on UK co-operation with Taiwan. I thank Members from across the House for their insightful contributions. I will do my best to cover as many of the points raised as possible, because it really has been a lengthy and wide-ranging debate.
Members of the House will be aware of the unique nature of the UK’s relationship with Taiwan. We are not represented by an embassy in Taiwan but rather by a British office. Our team there drive forward our unofficial but undoubtedly important relationship with Taiwan. As we have heard, our relations are built on an increasingly wide range of shared economic, scientific and educational interests, and a shared consideration of global challenges around climate and health.
I start by addressing up front the increased tensions in the Taiwan strait, which a number of Members rightly raised. We have seen the significant impact of China’s military modernisation and growing assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific region. The UK has a clear interest in ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan strait. Without it, the prosperity and security interests of both the UK and our like-minded partners would surely suffer. It is in this context that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have expressed their concerns at the numerous Chinese military flights that have taken place near Taiwan in recent days and months. These flights are not conducive to regional peace. We need a peaceful resolution to the tensions through a constructive dialogue by people on both sides of the strait. We will continue to work with our international partners on this issue. The G7 Foreign and Development communiqué last May underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan strait. Ministers undertook to encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues. We will continue to prioritise peace and stability in our discussions.
Many Members rightly mentioned trade. Another of our priorities is our trade relationship with Taiwan, which, as many pointed out, is thriving. UK exports to Taiwan rose by 86% between 2016 and 2019. Even last year, as the pandemic took hold, our exports to Taiwan increased by a further quarter. Let me reassure Members that we want to continue to develop that economic relationship, and the Department for International Trade holds annual ministerial trade talks with Taiwan to do just that. The most recent talks were held in October 2021, co-chaired by the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). Those talks deepened the UK’s and Taiwan’s economic and commercial partnerships across a range of areas, and saw progress on market access ambitions including energy and offshore wind power, financial services, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and—I must of course mention this—whisky. Taiwan is the fourth largest market for Scottish whisky by value.
The UK and Taiwan are also partners on climate action. We are increasingly sharing expertise on floating offshore wind and multi-use port development. We also collaborate on skills and workforce planning for the renewable energy sector. UK businesses support Taiwan’s ambition to increase its proportion of renewable energy to 20% by 2025. More than 30 UK offshore wind companies have set up operations in Taiwan. The third UK-Taiwan energy dialogue last year promoted our expertise in decarbonisation and offshore wind, and agreed new areas of co-operation including Taiwan’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The dialogue made progress on market access issues affecting UK companies, and our offshore renewable energy Catapult signed a memorandum of understanding with Taiwan’s top research institute to help new partnerships in energy innovation.
Members mentioned education. Taiwan has set out plans to become a bilingual society in Mandarin and English by 2030. The UK, through the British Council, is a natural partner to help advance English language education, teaching and assessment.
Many touched on support for Taiwan on the international stage. Beyond our UK-Taiwan co-operation, we think it important for the international community to benefit from Taiwanese expertise in a range of areas. We are therefore working with partners to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations as a member where statehood is not a prerequisite, and as an observer or guest where it is. We have worked hard with partners across a range of multilateral organisations to secure meaningful access for Taiwan, in a manner that is consistent with its status, and will continue to make the case in future. For example, at the 2021 World Health Assembly we named Taiwan in the UK’s national speech for the first time, and made the case, alongside like-minded countries, that Taiwan’s inclusion benefits global health. That includes its meaningful participation in ongoing technical meetings and allowing its health experts to access and participate in relevant facilities and virtual formats, as well as information exchange platforms.
As Members have pointed out, we need to learn from Taiwan’s leading example in tackling covid-19. It has rightly won the world’s admiration for its assured response, honed from its experience of SARS and using innovative technology to keep the virus at bay. We have facilitated expert-level dialogues between UK health experts and the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control, and we will continue to take forward plans this year for a UK-Taiwan expert health dialogue.
Members will be aware that Taiwan produces most of the high-performance semiconductors that drive our digital economy. It has a critical role in the technology supply chains that underpin global markets and invests heavily in research and innovation. We want our flourishing co-operation with Taiwan on science and technology to continue.
On semiconductor co-operation, the UK’s Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult signed a memorandum of understanding in 2020 with Taiwan’s largest applied research institute, the Industrial Technology Research Institute. The MOU provides a platform for co-operation on advanced chips.
Taiwan’s MediaTek, the world’s largest smartphone chip designer has recently expanded its research centres in Cambridge and London. We are keen to build on that co-operation and a project is currently under way through which the UK and Taiwan can scope out new opportunities in the sector.
I am conscious of the time and wish to give my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton the opportunity to respond to the debate, so let me conclude. Although the UK’s long-standing position on Taiwan has not changed, we are proud of our relationship. I reassure the House that we will continue to advocate for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations for which statehood is not a prerequisite. Enduring peace and stability in the Taiwan strait is not just in the UK interest but a matter of global concern, so we will continue to work with our international partners to discourage any activity that undermines the status quo.
I thank the Minister for responding to the debate. Above all, I thank every Member who has taken the time to contribute to this important discussion. There is unity throughout the House in respect of our commitment to and friendship with the people of Taiwan, whether from our legal eagles, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill); from our great gallant gentlemen, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart); from our foremost foreign policy expert, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat); or from great whisky drinkers and human rights advocates, such as the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson).
Most of all, there is a clarity of asks and a clarity of purpose in the House. I hope the Minister can go back to the Department and go through the specific, meaningful and tangible asks to see what more can be done. Yes, there is friendship, there is opportunity and there are shared threats, but today Parliament has spoken with one voice, in the fantastic presence of Ambassador Kelly, to whom we are all grateful for his friendship and work. I again thank everyone who came to the debate, because we have made it clear today that Britain stands firmly behind our ally and firmly behind our good friends the people of Taiwan.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the importance of the UK’s relationship with Taiwan; calls on the Government to continue to work towards the strengthening of the UK-Taiwan trade relationship and deepening of security cooperation; and further calls on the Government to support Taiwan’s recognition in the international community.