Beijing urges French senators to consider China relationship and rethink trip to Taiwan next week

·3-min read

A French senate delegation will visit Taiwan next week despite repeated objections from Beijing, including warnings by the Chinese ambassador to France that the trip would “needlessly disrupt” relations between their countries.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday said Beijing was “firmly opposed” to any official exchanges or contact between individual French senators and the authorities in Taiwan, a democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.

French Senator Alain Richard, a former defence minister, is expected to lead the French Senate Group for Exchange and Studies with Taiwan from October 4 to 11.

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“We urge the relevant individuals to strictly abide by the one-China principle and to maintain a good environment for the normal development of bilateral relations,” Hua said.

The Chinese embassy in France has called on the French senators to “reconsider” their decision, warning that the move would harm China’s “core interests” with Taiwan and undermine relations between Beijing and Paris. Taiwan’s foreign ministry has said it “enthusiastically” welcomed the delegation, and France’s foreign ministry has said it would not interfere in the planned trip.

In March, when Richard first revealed the delegation’s travel plans, China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye wrote a letter outlining how such a trip would “needlessly disrupt” the countries’ bilateral ties and would be exploited by “pro-independence forces” in Taiwan. Lu, one of China’s most outspoken diplomats, was later summoned by France’s foreign ministry after the embassy lashed out at Antoine Bondaz, a research fellow at the French think tank Foundation for Strategic Research, over tweets relating to the French delegation’s Taiwan travel plans.

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Beijing has vehemently objected to any international exchanges or signs that Taiwan is a separate country, and has stressed that bringing Taiwan under its rule is core to its national rejuvenation goals. In August, China recalled its ambassador to Lithuania after the Baltic country said it would allow Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius, the first in Europe to bear the name “Taiwan”.

Last August, Beijing also warned that the Czech Republic would “pay a heavy price” after Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil led a visit to Taiwan, where he praised its democratic system.

Li Zhenguang, a professor of Taiwan studies at Beijing Union University, said Taiwan’s authorities were seeking to open up their space in Europe by using the senates of different countries to “ram into” the one-China principle, and that they were “colluding” with forces in Europe to hurt relations between China and France.

“As a senator, [Richard] is just a representative of a certain region in France and he does not have the capacity to represent the French government, but just the fact that he is going to Taiwan is very damaging, regardless of the content of the trip,” he said. “This happened previously with the Czech Republic, which already severely hurt China’s relationship with Czech, so if France carries through with this, then of course this would cause great harm to China-France relations.”

Li added that it was difficult to estimate before the trip took place what impact it would have on the relationship between Beijing and France, but he pointed to the effects from Taiwan-related actions on China’s economic and cultural exchanges with the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

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