A French senatorial delegation is going to Taiwan from October 5 to 11 to meet several ministers and President Tsai Ing-wen. The visit, criticized by Beijing, comes amid high tensions after a series of record intrusions of Chinese military planes in the skies of Taiwan.
They want to reaffirm the ties that unite France and Taiwan. A delegation of four senators, members of the France-Taiwan friendship group, arrived on Tuesday, October 5, on the island of 23 million inhabitants, to the chagrin of Beijing, which has already threatened France with “reprisals” .
Led by Senator LREM Alain Richard, former Minister of Defense under Lionel Jospin, the senators must notably meet Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, but they will not participate in the ceremonies marking the national day of the island.
Asked by the newspaper Le Monde, Alain Richard indicates that this trip is being made “in close consultation with the Quai d’Orsay” but does not specify whether it carries a message from the French government.
Initially scheduled for March, this visit deeply irritates the Chinese authorities and had already given rise to a violent pass of arms between the French senators and the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye.
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Alain Richard then recalled that “this visit was not contradictory with the recognition of Beijing by France” and that “many democratic countries have the same type of relations with Taiwan”.
Ousted from the United Nations in 1971 in favor of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan is currently only recognized by 15 states around the world. If France does not have formal diplomatic relations with the island, it discreetly supports Taiwan and has sold it weapons in the past.
“For France, Taiwan remains an important partner at the economic, commercial and cultural level, and has also benefited from a strategic partnership, in particular with the purchase of the Lafayette frigates in 1991”, reminds France 24 Barthélémy Courmont, researcher associated with the ‘IRIS and editor-in-chief of the quarterly review “Chinese world, new Asia”.
“Diplomatically, France recognizes only one China but, in a practical way, and it is an open secret, there have always been relations between the two Chines and Paris”, confirms Emmanuel Lincot, professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris and co-author of “La Chine face au monde” (Capit Muscas), joined by France 24. “If this kind of visit is not new, what changes is the strong reaction of authorities.”
Chinese diplomacy appears to be more and more uninhibited, even aggressive, in particular on the Taiwan issue. “From now on, any form of support is singled out”, assures Barthélémy Courmont.
New Chinese radicalism
This senatorial move also comes at a time of extreme tension between Beijing and Taipei, considered a rebel province by China. In just four days, 148 Chinese military planes crossed Taiwanese airspace.
First show of force Friday, anniversary of Communist China: 39 planes including several nuclear-capable H-6 bombers violated the island’s aerial identification zone. On Monday, a new record was broken with an intrusion of 56 devices.
According to the island’s defense ministry, China carried out more than 500 such incursions during the first nine months of the year, many more than in 2020.
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Military provocations of an unprecedented scale which reflect an increasingly bellicose position of Beijing in the Indo-Pacific zone.
“These events are linked in particular to the deterioration of relations with the United States and their allies, Australia in particular. This is causing a new radicalism on the part of the Chinese authorities”, analyzes Emmanuel Lincot.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was “very concerned about the provocative military activity of the People’s Republic of China near Taiwan” and recalled that “the US commitment to the Taiwan’s regard is solid as a rock “.
Faced with this new geopolitical situation, Taiwan, driven by a management of the Covid-19 deemed exemplary, is active behind the scenes to come out of its isolation.
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In September, the island, which is one of the richest regions in China, positioned itself to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a free trade treaty that brings together Japan and Canada in particular. or Australia. An application for membership made just days after that of Beijing.
“By carrying this competing candidacy, the leaders of the island hope that in this new context, more countries or entities will be ready to come to their aid”, explains Jean-François Di Meglio, president of Asia Center, on the France 24 branch.
For several months, Taiwan has in any case scored points on the international scene. Visits by foreign delegations are more numerous. Lithuania has decided to open a Taiwan representative office. France has opened a second in Aix-en-Provence. The President of the Czech Senate, Milos Vystrcil, also made the trip in September 2020, declaring in passing: “I am a Taiwanese”.
“These visits have taken on a little more importance, given the tensions with Beijing. This has the effect of leading to more support and communication around Taiwan,” says Barthélémy Courmont.
“There is clearly a resurgence of interest on the part of Western countries. The West, led by the United States, is increasingly taking into consideration Taiwan’s desire to be recognized as a sovereign power in its own right”, explains Emmanuel Lincot. “Beyond the context of opposition between China and the United States, there is empathy for Taiwan given its democratic values which are also ours.”
“There is a gray area in which a certain number of Western countries will try to work for a rapprochement with Taiwan which today appears essential”, abounds Jean-François Di Meglio.
But this rapprochement will have to be done within the limits of Taiwan’s unique position in international institutions. In particular, it could pass first through the island’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or even Interpol.