French senator risks Chinese fury after calling Taiwan a country

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The head of a French delegation of senators on Thursday called Taiwan a "country" during a visit to Taipei, risking fury from China which has strongly protested against the trip.

Alain Richard, a former defence minister, arrived on Wednesday for a five-day visit despite repeated warnings from the Chinese embassy in Paris.

In a three minute speech President Tsai Ing-wen thanked Richard for his "continous pioneering efforts" in Taiwan-French exchanges and conferred on him a 1st class Order of Propitious Clouds,

The award is a presitious decoration first given to Chiang Kai-shek in 1941, when he was president of China before fleeing to Taiwan.

Richard said that "like many other countries, we support Taiwan," adding that Taiwan has "contributed greatly" in many areas internationally, while Taiwan's de facto embassy in Paris has been doing "a very good job in representing your country".

France officially recognises China which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory.

However, like all major countries, Taiwan maintains diplomatic communication through informal "trade" or "representative" offices.

Beijing tries to keep the island isolated on the world stage and baulks at the use of the name Taiwan or any reference to it as a country. Taiwan currently has official diplomatic ties with only fifteen countries: all of them small or tiny, including Paraguay, Guatemala, Eswatini and the Vatican.

Beijing tries hard to convince these countries to switch sides, while ramping up pressure on Tsai Ing-wen, who came to office in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020, and disgouraging international political figures to visit the island.

Chinese warning

The Chinese embassy in Paris warned that the visit would damage the interests of China, Chinese-French relations and "the image of France", in comments on its website.

Beijing's ambassador wrote a letter to Richard in February, saying the visit would "clearly violate the one-China principle and send the wrong signal to pro-independence forces in Taiwan".

Taiwan's foreign ministry has hailed the trip as "symbolising the insistence of Taiwan and France, as democratic partners, in upholding free and democratic values".

"We are very moved that Senator Richard is undaunted by the pressure... to make his third visit to Taiwan," Tsai said on Thursday.

She called a resolution Richard proposed in support of Taiwan's international participation a "milestone" in relations.

The resolution advocates for the island's active involvement in international organizations such as the WHO's World Health Assembly, Interpol, the World Aviation body ICAO and the UN Panel for Climate Change, passed by a unanimous French senate in May.

Richard chairs the French senate's Taiwan Friendship Group and visited the island in 2015 and 2018.

"Wolf warriors"

Taipei has accused China of using "wolf warrior" diplomacy to try and scupper trips by foreign politicians.

"Wolf warrior" is a label given to China's more aggressive posturing under President Xi Jinping that has been embraced by many Chinese diplomats.

Last year, Beijing called a visit to Taiwan by the president of the Czech Senate, Milos Vystrcil, a "provocation" and vowed he would "pay a high price".

Taiwan's defence minister said Wednesday that military tensions between the island and China are at their highest in four decades, after a record 149 Chinese warplanes made incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone since 1st of October.

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