West must ensure Taiwan can protect itself, Truss to tell Japan conference

There has been growing international concern over escalating tension between Beijing and Taiwan

Former British prime minister Liz Truss. AP
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A Chinese sanctions package is urgently required in the event of further military escalation around Taiwan, Liz Truss will tell G7 leaders on Friday.

The former prime minister will address a conference in Japan on Friday which has been organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international campaign group seeking to co-ordinate the response of democratic nations to Beijing.

The meeting will hear Ms Truss’s first public speech since her short and turbulent stint as prime minister ended last October, and she is expected to address growing concerns over China’s approach to Taiwan and the implications for free trade in the Indo-Pacific.

The Tory MP, who was also foreign secretary, is expected to put forward six policy recommendations, including a call for the G7 to agree urgently on a co-ordinated sanctions package to be used against Beijing in the event of further military escalation around Taiwan.

Ms Truss is also expected to recommend establishing an economic equivalent of the Nato military alliance for democratic nations should they need to respond to economic coercion, for democracies to audit and reduce dependency on China in critical industries, and to deepen economic ties with Taiwan.

Accepting Taiwan into international organisations and establishing a stronger Pacific defence alliance are also expected to be on Ms Truss’s wish list.

Liz Truss through the years — in pictures

“Some people say standing up to this regime is a hopeless task, that somehow the rise of a totalitarian China is inevitable,” Ms Truss is expected to say.

“But I reject this fatalism. And the free world has a significant role to play in whether or not that happens — and how it happens.

“It wasn’t that long ago that the UK heralded a ‘golden era’ of UK-China relations. We rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese president with all the pomp and ceremony that came with a state visit.

“I should know — I attended a banquet in his honour. Looking back, I think this sent the wrong message.”

On Taiwan, she is expected to say: “We must learn from the past. We must ensure that Taiwan is able to defend itself. And we must work together across the free world to do this.”

Taiwan has its own democratically elected government and is claimed by mainland China.

The island is not recognised as a sovereign state by the UK or US, but both have called for the dispute to be resolved peacefully, and the UK does support Taiwan’s participation in international organisations as an observer.

Truss unrepentant in final speech as UK prime minister — video

Truss unrepentant in final speech as UK prime minister

Truss unrepentant in final speech as UK prime minister

There has been growing international concern over escalating tension, with China recently having held large-scale military exercises.

Taking a tougher stance on China was widely expected under Ms Truss’s leadership, but with her time as prime minister ending so quickly amid economic and political turmoil, she did not deliver on an expectation to designate China as a “threat”.

Her re-entry into the debate comes as her successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is facing calls from some of his own backbenchers to take a tougher stance against Beijing.

This month, an ally of Ms Truss said her speech would be “hawkish”, and added: “She’s expected to address Sunak’s decision to brand China a strategic competitor rather than a threat.”

In November, Mr Sunak said the “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations was over but described the nation as a “systemic challenge” rather than a threat.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is an Ipac member, and this week criticised the government after it emerged officials were prepared to meet Erkin Tuniyaz, the Governor of north-western Xinjiang province. It is now understood that the Governor’s trip has been cancelled.

Ms Truss’s intervention will add pressure on Mr Sunak to take a firmer line at a time when her allies are also pushing for the party to reconsider her tax-cutting agenda.

Also expected to speak at the conference in Japan are two other former prime ministers, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt.

Updated: February 16, 2023, 10:30 PM