Taiwan will host a number of foreign lawmakers this week, defying China’s intensive attempts to dissuade third countries from engaging with Taipei.
A bipartisan group of Japanese lawmakers led by Keiji Furuya of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will visit Taipei on Monday and a US congressional delegation is due to arrive at the weekend, the third trip by US envoys in a matter of weeks.
Beijing is stepping up its campaign of military threats and sanctions in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip this month to any high-level foreign visit to Taiwan, testing governments’ resolve to risk falling out with China.
Parliamentarians and cabinet members from the US, Europe and Japan have been visiting Taiwan regularly for many years. Beijing has consistently opposed these exchanges, but did not retaliate with threats or military sanctions until recently.
When a Japanese delegation visited on July 27, just a week before Pelosi’s visit, it did not provoke a strong Chinese response. But when a Lithuanian deputy minister traveled to Taipei shortly after Pelosi’s departure, Beijing imposed sanctions on him. When another delegation from the US Congress came last week, China announced another round of military exercises in Taiwan.
Observers said Beijing was unlikely to succeed in further isolating Taiwan with such moves. “China is trying to dissuade them from coming, but they are failing,” said Vincent Chao, a former head of the political department at Taiwan’s quasi-embassy in Washington who is running in local elections this year.
The Japanese government has not expressed concern over Furuya’s trip, seeing it as business as usual, according to officials. But Tokyo fears that tensions over Taiwan could upset the delicate balance in its relationship with China.
“This is the 50th anniversary of Japan-China [diplomatic relations]. There is pressure from the business community, but we also, as diplomats, prefer a stable relationship with China,” said a senior government official. “From that perspective, we should not encourage Japanese lawmakers to visit Taiwan”.
Japan has been one of the US allies most strongly condemning China’s recent military exercises, especially after five missiles landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone. But Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has also stressed the need for the two countries to maintain dialogue. On Wednesday, Japanese National Security Adviser Takeo Akiba held a seven-hour meeting with Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, to discuss Taiwan, North Korea and Ukraine.
As governments and public opinion in the United States, Japan and Europe have become more antagonistic toward Beijing, democracies have engaged more with Taiwan to highlight shared values and draw on its experience with politics Chinese economy and disinformation campaigns. As a result, the flow of Western visitors to Taipei has been growing.
Taiwan has this year hosted 14 parliamentary or government delegations from countries with which it does not maintain diplomatic relations, including 19 members of the United States Congress.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, 58 members of Congress have visited, and the annual number has more than doubled during that period.
Lawmakers and government officials from Central and Eastern Europe have also become frequent visitors as they have grown disillusioned with the benefits of economic engagement with China and rejected Beijing’s tough political demands.
Another Lithuanian delegation is expected when the country opens its representative office in Taipei next week. A group of Canadian lawmakers and two delegations from the German parliament plan to visit in October.