China sends warplanes into Taiwan air defence zone in response to UK minister’s visit OLD

China sent 31 military aircraft into Taiwan's air-defence identification zone on Monday in an apparent response to British trade minister Greg Hands’s visit to the island nation.

The warplanes were part of a larger sortie of 63 aircraft and four naval vessels that were spotted near the island's "surrounding region", the Taiwanese defence ministry said.

The planes were tracked with electronic tools and Taiwan responded with aircraft, naval vessels, and land-based missile systems, it said.

China flew the highest number of warplanes into Taiwan's airspace on Monday since US White House speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit in August, according to Bloomberg.

Beijing has beefed up its military presence near Taiwan and maintains that the island is a part of its national territory, even though it has been self-ruled since 1949 following a civil war.

The Chinese foreign ministry earlier in the day strongly criticised Mr Hands’s visit to Taipei, asking the UK to "upheld the one-China policy".

"We urge the British side to stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to separatist forces for Taiwan independence," said spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Beijing, in its effort to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, has imposed visa bans and other forms of retaliation against foreign officials and governments who visited the island.

The British trade minister's Taiwan visit — a significant step for the ties between the two countries — comes just a fortnight after prime minister Rishi Sunak took office. During his previous election campaign, Mr Sunak had labelled China as one of the "biggest, long-term threats to Britain".

The trade minister is on a two-day visit where he will hold talks with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and co-host the UK-Taiwan 25th annual Trade Talks to “boost trade” and promote UK expertise in hydrogen and offshore wind.

“Visiting Taiwan in person is a clear signal of the UK’s commitment to boosting UK-Taiwan trade ties,” Mr Hands’s office said.

“Like the UK, Taiwan is a champion of free and fair trade underpinned by a rules-based global trading system."

The trade talks between the countries began in 1991 and were held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have a long-established trade relationship with Taiwan, it’s worth £8bn a year,” a Downing Street spokesperson said while defending Mr Hands’s visit.

The official added: “We have a vibrant, long-standing relationship on areas like trade and culture, and this will form part of that engagement.”

Innovate UK, Britain’s national innovation agency, will sign a new memorandum of understanding with Taiwan’s ministry of economic affairs, “pledging to increase collaboration on technology and innovation”.

The UK’s £8bn trade partnership with Taiwan has risen 14 per cent in the last two years, according to the Department for International Trade, with UK exports to Taiwan going up by 12 per cent during the pandemic.

David Spencer, the chief executive of the Taiwan Policy Centre, said that the UK is lagging behind its allies when it comes to sending officials to Taiwan.

He added: "The UK’s commitment to an Indo-Pacific tilt means there is a real opportunity to forge a strong trading relationship with a true democratic ally in the region.

“...This meeting offers an opportunity for some much-needed strategic clarity on the UK’s support for Taiwan. We hope Greg seizes that opportunity.”