British MPs call for ‘as much help as possible’ for Taiwan to defend against China

<span>Photograph: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

A British parliamentary delegation to Taiwan has called for the UK government to give “as much help as possible” to Taiwan to defend itself against China.

The visit by the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group to Taiwan this week included a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, and discussions of British defence exports which supply Taiwan’s submarine program.

Bob Stewart, Conservative MP and leader of the delegation, said on Wednesday that Taiwan was “on the front line of democracy, and autocracy”.

Related: Taiwan prepared ‘for all moves’ by China while President Tsai is abroad

Stewart confirmed the group discussed the UK supply of equipment to Taiwan’s submarine program.

“It came up in part, but the message we are taking back is that we should assist Taiwan in its defence as much as possible,” he said.

Speaking after their meeting, Tsai thanked the UK for “reaffirming the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” including at the G7 and other multilateral meetings.

China’s Communist party government claims Taiwan as a province, which it intends to annex, by force if necessary. Taiwan’s democratically elected government and the vast majority of its people reject the prospect of Chinese rule.

UK sales of defence-related equipment for Taiwan’s submarine program increased dramatically in 2022. In the first nine months of 2022, the British government granted 25 licences, totalling £167m ($206m), to companies exporting submarine-related components and tech to Taiwan. The figure, reported earlier this month by Reuters, was more than the previous six years combined, and up from £3.3m approved in 2008, the first year of such exports to Taiwan.

The report prompted China’s foreign ministry to accuse the UK of undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan strait, and committing “a serious violation of the one-China principle”.

The one-China principle is a domestic Chinese edict which encompasses its claim over Taiwan. Other governments maintain their own one-China policies, which dictate the varying levels of recognition given to China’s principle.

Western nations, predominantly led by the US, have shown increasing support to Taiwan, even if they do not recognise it as a sovereign nation, instead maintaining formal diplomatic ties with Beijing.

The UK is among many western nations whose relationship with China has deteriorated. In November, prime minister Rishi Sunak used his first major foreign policy speech to signal the end of the “golden era” of relations between Britain and China. This month the Aukus security agreement, aimed at countering China, was formally announced by the UK and US to help supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Wen-ti Sung, a China and Taiwan expert with the Australian National University, said Aukus raised the stakes for the UK in the Indo-Pacific regional order. “More active exploration of greater cooperation with Taiwan, a key part of this puzzle, can help Britain preemptively manage its own risks and where possible help preventing crisis from occurring.”