UK's shortest-serving PM Liz Truss kicks off political stunt trip to Taiwan
Published: May 16, 2023 09:48 PM
Liz Truss File Photo: Xinhua

Liz Truss File Photo: Xinhua

Liz Truss's reckless visit to Taiwan island could affect the balancing position that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken on China engagement, Chinese experts said, as the UK's shortest-serving prime minister and still a member of parliament (MP) kicked off a five-day visit to China's Taiwan region on Tuesday where she is expected to meet secessionism officials.  

Truss, known for her hawkish stance against Beijing, landed on Taiwan island on Tuesday. Before her arrival, Truss called for more actions from the West to engage with the island's secessionist authorities and combat Beijing in an interview with the Politico on Monday.

She is also expected to call on the West "to get real about military and defense cooperation" to aid the island. Nevertheless, a government source said the UK's policy toward the Taiwan question remains "unchanged" from the time that Truss was foreign secretary and in Downing Street, Sky News reported on Sunday. 

Analysts said Truss's provocative trip, which she claimed is on the invitation of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities on the island, will bring no substantial benefit to the island other than verbal support. And Truss herself may not realize that she is being used by the DPP as a mascot for the 2024 regional leadership election. 

Before Truss's visit, Alicia Kearns, a senior Conservative MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs committee, said Truss's trip is "performative, not substantive."  

She described the trip as the "worst kind of Instagram diplomacy" likely to escalate the normal situation on the island, and is "more about keeping herself relevant," according to a Guardian report. 

Li Guanjie, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies under the Shanghai International Studies University, said that given Truss's status as an MP and a former prime minister, she is likely to have been allowed to visit Taiwan island with the approval of the British government.

However, her visit will inevitably affect the relatively balanced policy of engagement with China by the Sunak cabinet, Li said. 

On April 25, the UK's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said failing to engage with China would be "a betrayal of national interest," according to the Sky News. According to Cleverly, the British government is trying hard to balance justified criticism of China with the "robustly pragmatic," constructive pursuit of beneficial ties.

Attitudes toward China in the UK, both within the Conservative Party and throughout the political sphere, are divisive. Truss's visit to Taiwan is a direct manifestation of this internal division, analysts said. 

The external affairs authority on the island of Taiwan hailed that the visit demonstrates staunch support and the close friendship from Truss. But it seems the British themselves do not believe in such rhetoric. According to British tabloid The Mirror, Truss's "keynote speech" could earn her tens of thousands of pounds.

Zhang Wensheng, deputy dean of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that DPP authorities are attempting to internationalize the Taiwan question and twist China's internal affairs into an ideological confrontation between "democracy" and "autocracy" by paying Western politicians for endorsement.

By creating cross-Straits confrontation and increasing tensions, the DPP is seeking to manipulate public opinion to benefit themselves in the Taiwan regional election in 2024, and hinder peaceful reunification, Zhang said.  

Being on China's sanctions list is a rare chance for a washed-out, second-rate politician to repackage, Li said, adding that "China is unlikely to fulfill her wish."

There were no remarks from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Truss's Taiwan trip at Tuesday's press briefing.