Taiwan will host a number of foreign lawmakers this week, defying China’s intensifying attempts to deter 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 American envoys in a matter of weeks.
Beijing is expanding its campaign of military threats and sanctions in response to the controversial trip by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this month to any high-level foreign visits to Taiwan, testing governments’ willingness to risk falling out with China.
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Parliamentarians and cabinet members from the US, Europe and Japan have been visiting Taiwan regularly for many years. Beijing has consistently opposed such exchanges but did not retaliate with military threats or sanctions until recently.
When a Japanese delegation visited on July 27, just a week before Pelosi’s visit, it did not trigger a harsh Chinese response. But when a Lithuanian deputy minister travelled to Taipei shortly after Pelosi’s departure, Beijing imposed sanctions on her.
When another US Congressional delegation came last week, China announced another round of military exercises around Taiwan.
Observers said Beijing was unlikely to succeed in further isolating Taiwan with such moves. “China is trying to deter 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 concerns about Furuya’s trip as they see it as business as usual, according to officials. But Tokyo is wary that the tensions over Taiwan could disturb the delicate balance in its relationship with China.
“This happens to be the 50th anniversary of Japan-China [diplomatic relations]. There is pressure from the business community, but also we 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 most vocal among US allies in condemning China’s recent military exercises, especially after five missiles landed in the country’s economic exclusive 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 US, Japan, and Europe have turned more antagonistic towards Beijing, democracies have engaged more with Taiwan to highlight shared values and tap its experience with Chinese economic statecraft and disinformation campaigns. The stream of western visitors to Taipei has been growing as a result.
Taiwan has hosted 14 parliamentary or government delegations from countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations this year, including 19 members of the US 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 this period.
Central and eastern European legislators and government officials have also become frequent visitors, as they have become disappointed over the benefits of economic engagement with China and pushed back against Beijing’s harsh 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 are planning to visit in October.