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China angered as UK trade minister visits Taiwan

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Greg Hands MP Portrait

A UK trade minister arrived in Taiwan on Monday for the first in-person talks since the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to boost ties with the self-ruled island, sparking a rebuke from Beijing.

Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands will co-host annual talks starting Tuesday and meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during his two-day visit, the Department for International Trade said.

Hands noted that Britain and Taiwan were both centres for global technology and that the “flourishing” island was a “vital partner” as the UK seeks new trade in the Pacific after Brexit.

The visit would help “future-proof” the UK economy by securing Taiwanese supply chains in semiconductors and electronic components, he wrote in The Times newspaper.

But China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, took umbrage at the trip by Hands — the first by a British minister to the island since 2018.

Beijing urges Britain to “stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan separatist forces”, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

In London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman denied any change towards UK diplomatic recognition of China.

“We have a vibrant, longstanding relationship (with Taiwan) on areas like trade and culture and this will form part of that engagement,” he told reporters.

Taiwan has seen a flurry of visits by foreign officials and lawmakers in recent months, the most high-profile of which was US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose trip infuriated Beijing.

China staged unprecedented military drills in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit in August, sending tensions to their highest level in decades.