China lashes out at UK’s post-Brexit trade talks with Taiwan

China has lashed out at the UK for sending a minister to Taiwan for trade talks, insisting that any “official contacts” with the self-governing territory must cease.

Trade minister Greg Hands is kicking off a two-day visit on Monday with discussions aimed at “boosting” trade after Brexit and promoting UK expertise in hydrogen and offshore wind.

Ahead of his visit, Mr Hands said: “Boosting trade with this vital partner is part of the UK’s post-Brexit tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, and closer collaboration will help us future-proof our economy in the decades to come.”

But China – which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to annex the island by force – has urged Britain to back off.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Monday that the UK should uphold the so-called “one-China principle” and stop “any forms of official contacts with Taiwan”.

Beijing has sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, imposing visa bans and other forms of retaliation against foreign officials and governments that have reached out in the past.

The island is excluded from the UN at Beijing’s insistence, with only 14 official diplomatic allies. However, it has drawn increasing backing from major nations, including Japan, Australia, the US and Canada, and across Europe.

A recent visit from the US House speaker Nancy Pelosi sparked outrage from Beijing – with missiles fired over Taiwan into the western Pacific and aircraft and ships positioned in a virtual blockade of the island.

Mr Zhao said the UK should “earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, uphold the one-China principle, stop any forms of official contacts with Taiwan and stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces”.

China views any official interactions between Taiwan and foreign ministers as a show of support for the island’s separateness from Beijing.

Mr Hands is due to meet Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, as well as co-hosting the UK-Taiwan 25th annual Trade Talks in Taipei during the trip. He will “promote UK expertise in offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicles”, the government said.

Talks with minister Chern-Chyi Chen will look at “tackling barriers to trade in sectors such as fintech, food and drink and pharma, aimed at helping more UK firms export and invest in Taiwan”, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.

Downing Street defended the minister’s visit, with Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson telling reporters: “We have a long-established trade relationship with Taiwan, it’s worth £8bn a year.”

The No 10 official added: “These are annual talks between the UK and the ministry of economic affairs in Taiwan. 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 the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taiwan, “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 DIT, with UK exports to Taiwan going up by 12 per cent during that period.

It comes as Mr Sunak and French president Emmanuel Macron are set to meet in the margins of the Cop27 summit in Egypt to discuss the issue of small boat crossings.

Business secretary Grant Shapps said Mr Sunak has “hit it off well” with Mr Macron and thinks they can make progress on reducing the number of migrants crossing the Channel.

Asked on the Today programme why the government did not make sure there was a returns agreement in the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, he said: “Without going back over five or six years of history, Europe had their own red lines … presumably it wasn’t possible.”

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