UK risks Chinese anger over trade talks with Taiwan

LONDON — Britain has been warned that Taiwan is an “inseparable part of China” after holding one-to-one talks on trade with a top Taiwanese trade official.

Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator met his British counterparts in mid-June to talk about bilateral trade between the two countries and to get advice on the Asian island’s bid to join the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade bloc.

But Beijing sounded a warning in London’s direction after Taipei’s minister John Deng’s meeting with British officials.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of China, it is not a country, which is universally recognized by the international community,” said a Chinese diplomatic spokesperson. The Chinese Communist Party considers “reunification with Taiwan,” a self-governing island, a key policy aim.

Deng met British government “economic and trade officials” during his visit to London between June 16-18, a spokesperson for the Taipei Representative Office in the U.K. confirmed to POLITICO. Their discussions covered “topics including CPTPP and trade relations,” they added.

Britain’s trade department — which did not publicize the meeting — confirmed Deng met with British economic and trade officials but would not elaborate on the discussions.

The two countries are working to increase their trade ties and Taiwan is seeking advice from Britain as it also works to accede to the CPTPP.

Britain has been working through the process of acceding to CPTPP since it put in its application in early 2021. Official level talks about its application were held in Sydney in June and further meetings are expected in Tokyo in July.

Taiwan submitted a formal application to join CPTPP last September a week after Beijing put in an application to join the group. China has laid claim to Taiwan since the Chinese Communist Party’s rivals fled there and claimed the island as a sovereign state after losing the country’s Civil War in 1949.

The meeting comes at a sensitive time for U.K.-China relations, amid mounting opposition to Beijing from leading Conservative lawmakers.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Times Radio late last week that the world needs “to learn the lessons from Ukraine” with respect to Taiwan. The free world, she said, must “make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself, that we continue to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.”

China has said it “resolutely” opposes Taiwan’s efforts to become a member of CPTPP. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned against “any country with a diplomatic relationship with [China] negotiating and signing with Taiwan any agreement that comes with a meaning of sovereignty and is official in nature.”

Total trade in goods and services between Britain and Taiwan stood at £8.3 billion in 2021.