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Europe ‘standing’ with Taiwan, visiting delegation says

(Led by French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, the group has been described as the first ‘official’ delegation from the European Parliament. Photo: AFP)

TAIPEI, (AFP):- Taiwan’s democracy is “a treasure” to be protected, the head of a visiting European Parliament delegation said on Thursday, promising to stand with the island as tensions between Beijing and Taipei spiral to their highest level in years.

China lays claim to Taiwan and has intensified efforts in recent years to isolate it on the international stage, bristling at any attempt to treat the self-ruled island as an independent state.

Recent Chinese airforce incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone have been met with international support for Taipei, including from the United States — which reiterated its long-standing commitment to supporting the island’s self-defence.

Led by French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, a vocal China critic who was among five lawmakers sanctioned by Beijing in March, the group has been described as the first “official” delegation to Taipei from the European Parliament despite Chinese opposition.

Glucksmann called Taiwan’s democracy “a treasure that all democrats around the world should cherish and protect”.

“We came here with a very simple, very clear message — you are not alone,” he said as the delegation met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday.

“Europe is standing with you… in the defence of freedom and the defence of rule of law and human dignity,” he said, urging the European Union to step up cooperation with Taiwan.

“It’s high time for us in the European Union to show that we are in the same boat… next we need a very concrete agenda of high-level meetings and high-level concrete steps” to build an EU-Taiwan partnership.

Tsai tweeted her thanks to the delegates on Thursday, saying an EU-Taiwan “partnership will help us better address these common threats and protect our shared democratic values”.

– ‘Sensitive issue’ –

China’s foreign office expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the visit.

An official said members of the European Parliament “should fully understand the complexity and sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, abide by the EU’s commitment to the One-China Principle… and safeguard the political basis of the development of China-EU relations”.

Beijing also responded to comments made by US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley on Wednesday, in which he stressed “we absolutely have the capability” to defend Taiwan.

“No one should underestimate China’s firm determination and will to defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the foreign official said.

“We will never allow anyone or any force to separate Taiwan from the embrace of the motherland in any way.”

The Chinese mission in Brussels warned before the European Parliament delegation left that a Taiwan visit by MEPs would “damage China’s core interest and undermine the healthy development of China-EU relations”.

Beijing reacted with anger when a group of French senators travelled to Taipei last month, and to Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu’s recent visits to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

China-Taiwan ties have plunged since Tsai took office in 2016, as she views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of Chinese territory.

Taiwan’s defence minister said that military tensions with Beijing were at their highest in four decades after record incursions by Chinese warplanes into the island’s air defence zone last month.

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