TAIPEI: Britain’s former prime minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her successor Rishi Sunak to get tough with China on Taiwan, describing the democratic island as “an enduring rebuke to totalitarianism.”
China considers self-ruled Taiwan to be its territory, to be taken one day by force if necessary, and strongly opposes any formal engagement with the island, including by high-profile foreign political figures.
Truss, who is on a five-day visit to Taiwan, accused Sunak and other Western governments of “trying to cling on to the idea that we can cooperate with China on issues like climate change, as if there is nothing wrong.”
“But without freedom and democracy, there is nothing else. We know what happens to the environment or world health under totalitarian regimes that don’t tell the truth,” she said.
“You can’t believe a word they (China) say.”
Truss also called on Sunak to make good on his pledge during the Conservative leadership campaign last year to designate China a strategic “threat,” and went on to say the West could not avoid another “Cold War” with Beijing.
It is “absolutely clear” that Chinese President Xi Jinping “has ambitions to take Taiwan”, she added at a press conference later.
“We don’t know exactly when that could take place and we don’t know how… All we can do is make sure Taiwan is as protected as possible.”
Sunak has pushed back on the tough rhetoric against China that Truss deployed before and during her 49-day tenure at 10 Downing Street last year.
She was ousted after her radical economic policies crashed financial markets.
Since then, Truss — who is still a sitting MP — has been trying to rebuild her profile with a series of speeches overseas, including in Tokyo, Washington and Copenhagen.
The Chinese government has slammed Truss’s Taiwan visit as a “dangerous political show which will do nothing but harm to the UK.”
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London accused her of “colluding with ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces to provoke confrontation”, in a statement issued before her speech in Taipei.
It added that Truss’s visit would “further expose herself as a failed politician.”
The former leader has also faced accusations back home that she is indulging in irresponsible saber-rattling in a bid to maintain her political relevance.
“The (Taiwan) trip is performative, not substantive,” House of Commons foreign relations committee chair Alicia Kearns told The Guardian newspaper last week.
“It is the worst kind of example of Instagram diplomacy,” the Conservative said, recalling previous criticism of Truss’s tireless self-promotion on social media.
Kearns added the trip was likely to deepen problems for Taiwan.
Truss defended herself Wednesday by saying she was invited by Taipei, which was “best placed to understand what will help Taiwan’s course.”
She added: “I think that’s a very dangerous idea that we should allow a totalitarian regime to dictate who goes where in the world.”
Beijing has in recent years stepped up air and sea incursions around Taiwan, whose President Tsai Ing-wen has refused to accept that the island is a part of China.
After a visit to Taiwan by then-speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, China launched massive military drills around the island.
There were more drills this year following a meeting in the United States between Tsai and Pelosi’s successor.