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Strengthening Britain’s support for Taiwan is vital as the threat from China grows

(Alamy)

4 min read

In an increasingly uncertain world, building friendship, exchange and solidarity with the people of Taiwan has never been more important.

Visitors to Taiwan are blown away by its beautiful scenery, bustling cities and of course, its world beating cuisine. Yet for those visiting during election season, something else is obvious too. From the campaign posters lining the streets, to noisy rallies in parks and public spaces, it is clear that Taiwan’s people love their democratic system and aren’t afraid to show it.

Near daily flights of military aircraft fly ever closer to Taiwan’s shores, while the Chinese government exploits Taiwan’s free press to spread misinformation and fake news

Taiwan’s path to democracy has been hard won. For decades after the end of the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s, Chiang Kai Shek’s retreating Nationalist Party ruled by martial law, imposing a “White Terror” on the island. After years of courageous dissent from pro-democracy activists, constitutional democracy was restored and, in 1996, Taiwan held its first presidential election.

Taiwan can now count itself among the most successful democracies in Asia. It is consistently ranked by Freedom House as “free” and was singled out as a “star performer” and a “beacon of democracy in Asia” in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. It was the first country in Asia to legalise same sex marriage and has a thriving civil society scene with a free press, trade unions and environmental movements.

Yet today, this democracy is once again under threat. Despite never ruling Taiwan, China’s ruling Communist Party considers it part of its own territory. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stated his goal of "re-unifying" Taiwan with the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force to achieve this. Beijing has stepped up its threats against Taiwan in recent years. Near daily flights of military aircraft fly ever closer to Taiwan’s shores, while the Chinese government exploits Taiwan’s free press to spread misinformation and fake news.

As Taiwan’s democracy comes under increasing pressure from the Chinese government, Taiwan needs its friends in the United Kingdom more than ever. That is why we have launched Labour Friends of Taiwan – a new movement to build friendship, exchange and solidarity between the Labour movement and the people of Taiwan. As a progressive, open democracy, Taiwan upholds the values that we in the Labour movement seek to advance.

Labour Friends of Taiwan will not only seek to strengthen the UK government’s support for Taiwan, but also to foster friendship and dialogue between British and Taiwan politicians, trade unionists and activists. We will celebrate the contribution of the Taiwan diaspora to our national life – from the thousands of Taiwan students who study in the UK each year, to the collaboration between UK and Taiwan wind power firms building a greener future for our country.

Labour Friends of Taiwan will continue in a long and proud tradition of solidarity with progressive forces worldwide. But support for Taiwan should never be a partisan issue. Democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law are values that all of us should hold dear, no matter our party affiliation. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) has been central in drawing together cross-party global legislators in support of democracies and the integrity of their political systems. Labour Friends of Taiwan will continue to work with our colleagues across Parliament to advocate for a robust UK policy towards Taiwan, from increased trade and cultural exchange, to making it clear to China that any military action against Taiwan is unacceptable.

Friendship goes two ways, and so, while we may hope to show our support for Taiwan, we also have much to gain from deepening ties with Taiwan. Taiwan is a world leader in public health and green technologies, while over 90 per cent of the world’s most advanced computer chips are made in Taiwan.

Importantly, as our own democracy is increasingly challenged by apathy, lethargy and reactionary politics, we have much to learn from Taiwan’s energetic and lively democracy. 

 

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South. Lord Leong, Labour peer. They are co-chairs of Labour Friends of Taiwan. 

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