French lawmakers visit Taiwan after China's war drill threats

AFP , Wednesday 7 Sep 2022

A group of French lawmakers landed in Taiwan on Wednesday, the first high-level European delegation since China conducted huge war drills to protest a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

File photo showing a CH-47 Chinook helicopter carries a Taiwan flag during national day celebrations in Taipei on October 10, 2021. AFP


The trip came as Taiwan held two days of live fire drills on a strategic island that lies between its coast and China.

Taiwan is under constant threat of an invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory to be seized one day.

Beijing lashes out at any diplomatic action that might lend Taiwan legitimacy, and has responded with growing anger to visits by Western officials and politicians.

The delegation of five French lawmakers is being led by Senator Cyril Pellevat, Taiwan's foreign ministry said, adding it was the fourth visit by French politicians in the past 12 months.

Last month, China sent warships, missiles and fighter jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan in a show of opposition to Pelosi's presence -- its largest and most aggressive exercises since the mid-1990s.

Pelosi, a veteran Beijing critic, was the most senior US politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She was followed by multiple separate US delegations in August.

Another US delegation, this one of congressional representatives, will visit the island from September 7-9, the American Institute in Taiwan -- Washington's de facto embassy on the island -- said Wednesday.

China's huge war drills triggered widespread support in the United States for solidarity with Taiwan, which already has rare bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

Many European powers have also grown more vocal in support of Taiwan in recent years, while Russia invading Ukraine has deepened fears China might do the same to its neighbour.

Politicians from European countries regularly visit the island.

Like most nations, the United States and France officially recognise Beijing over Taipei.

But they both remain key allies of Taiwan and maintain de facto diplomatic ties with the island.

Washington's official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence and China forcibly changing the island's status.

- 'Prepare but not seek war' -

On Tuesday, Taiwanese troops carried out dramatic nighttime live fire drills on the island of Pingtung, which lies between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan and which would need to be seized in any invasion.

Tanks were illuminated by sudden flashes of flame as they fired shells while tracer rounds arced across the night sky.

"We will prepare for war but will not seek war," Huang Jing-feng, Battalion Commanding Officer, told reporters.

"We will carry on training to elevate each soldier's combat skills."

The drills continued Wednesday -- with tanks, combat helicopters and mobile missile launchers conducting firing exercises.

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