Democracies are at their most powerful when they stand together. Both Taiwan and the UK are strong and healthy democracies that have much to learn from each other. The benefits of democracy and democratic values are clear. Taiwan’s track record of peace, stability and liberty demonstrates the intrinsic value of democracy. I have no doubt that the relationship between the UK and Taiwan will continue to flourish as they stand united by our shared values and commitment to peace.
I have had the pleasure over the past few days of leading a delegation from the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to Taiwan to meet its government and legislature to show our firm commitment to deepening engagement between our peoples. Visiting Taiwan has always been a priority for our committee. We wanted to learn more about Taiwan — its people, its government, its way of life and, yes, its great food!
Cooperation between the UK and Taiwan has increased in recent years, but still has great potential to broaden and deepen.
Two-way trade between Taiwan and the UK last year reached NT$224 billion (US$7.32 billion). However, there is tremendous potential for expanding trade further between Taiwan and the UK. Recent trade talks have included bilateral collaboration on renewable energy, technology and tackling barriers to trade in pharmaceuticals, whiskey, financial technology and food. There is also scope for expansion in the services trade, especially in the field of culture and education.
In October last year, the British Council in Taiwan and the Ministry of Education signed a memorandum of understanding to support Taiwan’s ambition to become bilingual in Mandarin and English by 2030, and to promote increased collaboration in education, including cultivating Chinese language proficiency in the UK.
Already each year, up to 8,000 Taiwanese students go to the UK to study. This is a good start, but the British government could welcome many more. By comparison, there are 144,000 students from China currently studying in the UK. I am hopeful that our new education collaboration delivers mutual benefits.
Increasing the number of Taiwanese students in British universities would help diversify away from dependency on students from a single foreign country. Simultaneously, growing the number of British students studying in Taiwan would lead to the UK having a deeper understanding of Taiwan, which would be of great value for business and government.
The British government also welcomes the participation of Taiwanese teachers and examiners in expanding politically neutral Chinese language teaching in UK schools.
British investment in Taiwan is expected to increase as Taiwan prepares to build wind farms, invest heavily in railways and continue decommissioning nuclear power stations — all areas in which the UK has valuable experience. Taiwan is also an excellent springboard for British investment in China, as Taiwanese have deep knowledge and experience of the Chinese business environment, being itself a major source of foreign direct investment in China.
More broadly, cooperation should extend beyond these mutually beneficial exchanges to encompass joint efforts to tackle supranational challenges. The UK and Taiwan enjoy positive reputations worldwide in healthcare, although in this case Taiwan’s contribution to the world is not always welcomed as warmly as it could be.
One example of the crucial role Taiwan plays in today’s world was its strenuous effort to warn the world about COVID-19 in December 2019. Taiwan sent repeated messages to the WHO about the outbreak in Wuhan, stimulating the international effort to isolate the disease and produce a vaccine. Yet Taiwan is excluded from even observer status at the World Health Assembly, due to unjust obstruction. This is a scandal that must not be allowed to continue.
Taiwan plays a crucial role in protecting peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region by maintaining a strong defense against any potential aggression while threatening nobody. Taiwan is under constant pressure.
Lawmakers in the UK acknowledge the tensions in the relationship between Taiwan and China, and are in agreement with Taiwan that a peaceful resolution, in accordance with international law and norms, is imperative. As has been seen in Ukraine, aggression — even threats of aggression — will not be tolerated by the international community.
Over the course of our visit, the delegation spoke to a range of individuals and organizations. It was important for us to hear from Taiwanese people directly, whose resilience is striking. We will continue to advocate for Taiwan and its people and thank you for welcoming us with such warmth and kindness.
Alicia Kearns is a British Member of Parliament and chair of the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
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