China slams French senators' visit to Taiwan

French Senator Alain Richard (left) and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei, on Oct 7, 2021.
French Senator Alain Richard (left) and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei, on Oct 7, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Friday (Oct 8) condemned a visit by a group of French senators to Taiwan, accusing the delegation of undermining relations between Paris and Beijing.

The delegation, led by former French defence minister Alain Richard, arrived on the self-ruled democratic island Wednesday for a five-day visit despite warnings from China.

Mr Richard called Taiwan a "country" during a speech after a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, in a move that infuriated Beijing.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.

China also baulks at the official use of the name Taiwan or any reference to it as a country.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday said Mr Richard made his comment "out of self-interest to undermine relations between China and France".

Mr Zhao said Mr Richard's use of the term "country" had "blatantly violated" international practice, and he urged France to "respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

In a speech after he was conferred a top medal of honour by Ms Tsai, Mr Richard said Taiwan's de facto embassy in Paris has been doing "a very good job in representing your country".

On Friday, he followed up his comments by saying that the island should not be prevented from using the name Taiwan on the international stage rather than Chinese Taipei. 

"It’s a fine diplomatic issue but what is striking for me is that the name of this island and of this country is Taiwan, so there is no big point in trying to prevent this country from using its name," he told a press conference. 

He was responding to a question on whether Taipei’s representative office in Paris could use the name, which would be a significant diplomatic departure that Beijing opposes. 

Beijing has ramped up pressure on Ms Tsai's government since her 2016 election win and has aggressively tried to dissuade politicians from visiting in recent years.

The Chinese embassy in Paris had also repeatedly warned against the visit, saying in an online statement that it would damage "the image of France".

But Taipei has hailed the trip as a show of support and a move to uphold "free and democratic values" as pressure grows from Beijing.

Taiwan's defence minister said Wednesday that military tensions between the island and China were at their highest in four decades, after around 150 Chinese warplanes - a record number - made incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone in recent days.