Two visiting New Zealand politicians yesterday said that they were impressed by Taiwan’s resilience and development in the face of the constant threat from China.
In an interview with the Central News Agency (CNA), Brooke van Velden, deputy head of the ACT New Zealand party, said that the trip was intended to learn more about the connections between the two countries, which were bound together by the 2013 Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu on Economic Cooperation.
“It’s wonderful to see that still strong and continuing, and gives us the opportunity to have cultural connections like this one,” Van Velden said.
Annual bilateral trade exceeded NZ$3 billion (US$1.8 billion) last year, making Taiwan the sixth-largest export market for New Zealand’s goods.
Van Velden, who is on her first trip to Taiwan, said that it struck her as a “modern, vibrant, beautiful society” that she felt was “pleasant and safe.”
People here are just “getting on with life,” she told CNA, when asked about Taiwan, which some media portray as one of the most dangerous places on Earth because of tensions with China.
Her colleague, James McDowall, the party’s spokesman for Immigration, Defense, Tourism and Internal Affairs, said that he was impressed by the resilience and productiveness of Taiwan’s economic and overall development, despite being diplomatically isolated and constantly facing military threats from China.
During their trip, which began on Monday, he has had “fascinating conversations” with Taiwanese officials on how they, “despite the difficulties and the changing environment, maintained that sort of peace, that status quo,” McDowall said.
The visit is the first by New Zealand lawmakers to Taiwan since 2019. They are to depart today.
During their stay, they met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and other senior officials, and visited the National Security Council, the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Office of Trade Negotiations and the Bureau of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The two lawmakers have long expressed concerns over China’s human rights violations.
Van Velden in 2021 filed a motion to debate and vote on the issue of human rights abuses against the Uighur ethnic minority community in China’s Xinjiang region.
McDowall is known for swearing his allegiance to the British monarch — New Zealand’s formal head of state — in Cantonese as a member of parliament in 2020, paying tribute to his wife’s mother tongue and showing solidarity with Hong Kong.
Van Velden and McDowall are also members of the New Zealand All-Party Parliamentary Group, which was formed in March to promote exchanges between the two nations’ legislative bodies.
On May 16, New Zealand All-Party Parliamentary Group cochairs for Taiwan, Simon O’Connor and Ingrid Leary, signed a letter on behalf of its 25 members urging New Zealand’s government and parliament to support Taiwan’s participation in the WHO.
Van Velden told CNA that she supports democratic rights throughout the world, including human rights for Iranian women and for the Uighurs against the Chinese Communist Party.
It is important for New Zealand politicians to “freely speak their minds and to be able to bring these motions to the House of Representatives in New Zealand, because we do have freedom of speech,” she said.
“And that is a fundamental human right for all people all around the world,” she added.
McDowall said that the situation in Hong Kong was “tragic” after the unfolding of the National Security Law, which could also serve as a warning because Beijing has proposed a similar “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan.
“I think they can look at the experience in Hong Kong and know that that is absolutely not the right path for Taiwan,” he said. “So China’s actions there [in Hong Kong] have totally ruined any chance of it ever happening here.”
The two lawmakers said they originally expected to be joined by parliamentarians from other New Zealand political parties, but they pulled out at the last minute.
The New Zealand Post earlier yesterday reported that members of parliament for the Labor, National and Green parties did not to make the trip because of an upcoming election, but could visit after the Oct. 14 vote.
O’Connor of the National Party and Leary of the Labor Party told the New Zealand Post that the timing did not work for lawmakers seeking re-election, as they need to spend more time in their districts in preparation for what are expected to be closely contested elections.
The Labour Party has 62 seats, National has 34, ACT has 10 and the Green Party has nine.
Representative to New Zealand Joanne Ou (歐江安) expressed her gratitude to ACT for sending the two politicians to Taiwan despite the upcoming elections.
She said that Taiwan’s government would welcome ACT leader David Seymour to visit when he is available.
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