French senators to visit Taiwan amid soaring China tensions

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A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo

TAIPEI, Oct 5 (Reuters) - A group of French senators including a former defence minister will visit Taiwan this week, the island’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, with the visit coming at a time of soaring tensions between Taipei and Beijing and despite China’s opposition.

Their trip comes after China flew almost 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone over a four-day period beginning Oct. 1, China’s National Day holiday.

China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory and is always angered by any trips to the island by foreign officials.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the delegation will be led by Alain Richard, head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group who was the country’s defence minister from 1997 to 2002 under President Jacques Chirac. Richard has visited Taiwan twice before, in 2015 and 2018.

Ou said Richard and his group would be coming despite pressure from China.

“We are very moved by this and admire it,” she added.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said later three other senators would join the trip, which would last from Wednesday to Sunday and that they would have meetings with senior officials, including President Tsai Ing-wen.

France, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but has previously sold weapons to the island - six frigates in 1991, and 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets the following year.

In March, the Chinese embassy in Paris warned against lawmakers meeting Taiwanese officials, prompting a rebuff from the French foreign ministry, which said French senators are free to meet whomever they wish when they travel.

Taiwan’s government has denounced China’s pressure against it, and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, and that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Ed Osmond

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Taiwan ‘cat warriors’ evade China’s jaws

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A wolf and a cat are born on the same day. The wolf pup is much bigger, maybe a pound at birth. The kitten, closer to four ounces. But they roll and tumble, playmates if not friends.

Time passes. Both grow. The wolf becomes 150 pounds. The cat, 10. The wolf is sharp-eyed, fierce and hungry, looking for its next meal. The cat is anxious, constantly trying to keep from ending up in the wolf’s belly.

Welcome to the China-Taiwan relationship, circa 2021. Both nations were founded at the same time, in the late 1940s. Taiwan was never part of Communist China. But China insists Taiwan is its possession anyway and wants it, eventually.


Communist China is much, much bigger: 1.3 billion people over 3.705 million square miles. Taiwan has 23 million people on almost 14,000 square miles, or less than 1⁄ 2 of 1 percent the area of China.

Which leads to the question of why China is so keen to snap it up, even though doing so would plunge the global economy into chaos? And the answer is: because they’re China, growing in power and aggression, keen to claim everything it thinks is its due, Hong Kong was returned from Britain and is being brutally suppressed.

Next on the agenda is Taiwan, which it describes as a “renegade province.” Trouble is brewing. On Friday, the Chinese sent 38 warplanes into Taiwanese airspace. The whole flap over the United States selling submarines to Australia is about keeping China from gobbling up its neighbors.

Trying to keep a distracted world aware, if not exactly focused, on their delicate situation is a continuing task for Taiwan. That’s what brought Hsiao Bi-khim, the Taiwanese representative to the United States, to Chicago last week, and how we ended up sitting in the prow of Chicago’s First Lady, politely balancing paper plates of deep dish pizza that neither of us wanted on our knees, and talking international relations as the glittering riverfront skyscrapers slid by.

“Taiwan and the United States share common values and interests,” said Hsiao, who went to school at Oberlin and Columbia University. “Those values are in democracy and freedom. Those interests in the stability of the Indo-Pacific region and economic prosperity.”

Taiwan calls her “an ambassador,” though in reality the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, at the insistence of China, which shrieks at the smallest recognition of Taiwan as an independent country.

“China has certainly tried to block Taiwan’s international engagements, including our relations with the United States,” she said, noting a new boldness on our country’s part. “In recent years, there has been a new perspective on the need to engage with Taiwan.”

Warming toward Taiwan was one of the few things that Donald Trump got right.

In years past, there was a significant movement in Taiwan to accept Chinese authority. That quieted down after the crushing of civil rights in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong has certainly had an impact on the public mindset in Taiwan, fortifying our determination to defend the freedom and basic rights that we have in Taiwan,” Hsiao said. “Obviously, they have reneged on their commitments to basic rights in Hong Kong.”

Thousands of Americans study in China, and they’d like them to consider studying in Taiwan instead.

“Our agenda here in Chicago, in addition to the economic and business engagements … is [to promote] educational opportunities,” she said. “American schools want to study and learn in an environment free of coercion and censorship. We are providing Taiwan as an alternative for Chinese and Mandarin education. We cherish academic freedom and the freedom of speech, all the values that American universities cherish.”

In theory, given how easily places like DePaul yank away the welcome mat from speakers who stray a toe away from current cant. Which raises the question of how the United States can, with a straight face, encourage democracy abroad while seeing it undermined so perilously at home?

Maybe by contemplating how much worse off we’ll be should China carry out its threats against Taiwan. As bad as that would be for the boisterous democracy there, it would also be terrible for us, already squirming under the heel of the ascendent communists.

I hate to put another concern on the groaning buffet table of worries. But at least when the crisis comes — tomorrow, or next week, or next year, but someday soon — at least you can say, “Hey, I read something about that …”

Before I let Hsiao go back to Washington, I had to ask her. When she took her position last year, she said she would bring a “cat warrior” approach to facing China. What’s that all about?

“It originated when the press asked me how I would confront the wolf warriors of China,” she said. “I think the spirit of a cat warrior does exemplify where Taiwan is. That is, we need to be nimble and flexible and survive in small spaces. Cats are more likable than wolves, obviously. Another important aspect is cats cannot be coerced. You cannot force a cat to do something. We have a mind of our own, We can survive in very challenging circumstances. That’s the spirit of the Taiwanese people.”

Taiwan says it needs to be alert to ‘over the top’ military activities by China

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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan needs to be on alert for China’s “over the top” military activities, the premier said on Tuesday, after a record 56 Chinese aircraft here flew into Taiwan’s air defence zone, while the president said the island would do what it took to defend itself.

Taiwan has reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern part of its air defence zone over a four day period beginning on Friday, the same day China marked a key patriotic holiday, National Day.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory, which should be taken by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy, blaming China for the tensions.

The tensions are being viewed with increasing concern by the international community. Japan and Australia on Tuesday urged the two to talk, while the United States said it has been “conveying clear messages” after what it described as destabilising activities by China.

Taiwan calls China’s repeated nearby military activities “grey zone” warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan’s forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan’s responses.

“Taiwan must be on alert. China is more and more over the top,” Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters in Taipei. “The world has also seen China’s repeated violations of regional peace and pressure on Taiwan.”

Taiwan needs to “strengthen itself” and come together as one, he added.

“Only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force. Only when we help ourselves can others help us.”

The Chinese aircraft have not been flying in Taiwan’s air space, but its air defence identification zone or ADIZ, a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside military airplanes in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernising the armed forces a priority, focusing on the use of new, mobile weapons to make any attack by China as costly as possible, turning Taiwan into a “porcupine”.

In an article for the U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs here released on Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan falling to China would trigger “catastrophic” consequences for peace in Asia.

Taiwan does not seek military confrontation, Tsai said, “but if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.”


The United States, Taiwan’s main military supplier, has its “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan.

China has blamed the United States for the tensions due to its arms sales and support for the island.

In a sign of the fraught atmosphere, a security source confirmed reports in Taiwanese media that a Chinese pilot responded to a radio warning to fly away on Sunday with an expletive.

China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Japan also weighed in on Tuesday, saying it was watching the situation closely and hoped Taiwan and China could resolve their differences through talks.

“Japan believes that it is crucial for the situation surrounding Taiwan to be peaceful and stable,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in Tokyo.

“Additionally, instead of simply monitoring the situation, we hope to weigh the various possible scenarios that may arise to consider what options we have, as well as the preparations we must make.”

The Japanese, U.S., British, Dutch, Canadian and New Zealand navies held joint drills near Okinawa over the weekend, including U.S. and British aircraft carriers.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it too was concerned by China’s increased air incursions.

“Resolution of differences over Taiwan and other regional issues must be achieved peacefully through dialogue and without the threat or use of force or coercion,” it said.

Taiwan has lived under the threat of invasion since the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists. No peace treaty or armistice has ever been signed.

Taiwanese people are well used to China’s threats and there has been no sign of panic on the island because of the stepped up military activity, nor undermining of investor confidence on the stock market.