French senators meet Taiwan’s Tsai amid Chinese tensions

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – A group of French senators visiting Taiwan as part of a regular parliamentary exchange met President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday morning during a trip that comes at a particularly tense time between China and the autonomous island.

Tsai spoke briefly before their meeting, presenting former French Defense Minister Alain Richard with the Order of Auspicious Clouds, a distinction recognizing “his contributions to Taiwan-France relations”. She thanked him for leading an effort in the French Senate to pass a resolution in favor of allowing Taiwan to participate in international organizations like the World Health Organization.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and opposes any international engagement with the island that suggests a separate status, such as membership in the WHO and meetings with representatives of foreign governments. He tried to discourage the visit of French senators, with his embassy in Paris saying ahead of the trip that it would undermine Sino-French relations.

Richard and the other three senators also plan to meet with Taiwanese economic and health officials and the Continental Affairs Council during their five-day stay. This is Richard’s third visit to Taiwan, after 2015 and 2018. He heads the Taiwan Friendship Group in the French Senate.

The trip is recurrent that French lawmakers make as part of the Taiwanese friendship group, especially since new senators are elected every three years.

Tsai also met with former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was visiting the island to deliver a speech.

Abbott spoke in a private capacity, but said he was advocating for Taiwan to join an 11-country trade group that China has also asked to join.

“I can’t think of a stronger signal from democracies alongside Taiwan than Taiwan’s joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said Thursday. “And I hope your application will be well received by its existing members.”

China and Taiwan separated amid civil war in 1949, and China increasingly mobilized military, diplomatic, and economic pressure to undermine Tsai’s pro-independence government while threatening to bring the island under control. of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Taiwanese defense minister called the current situation the most serious in 40 years.

In its most recent display of sustained military harassment, China has flown fighter jets to Taiwan 149 times in four days, from last Friday to Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Paris on an official visit on Wednesday, said Chinese military flights to Taiwan were “unsettling”.

“We strongly urge Beijing to stop its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion directed against Taiwan,” he said.

China has often called acts of provocation the United States selling weapons to Taiwan and its ships sailing the Taiwan Strait.

“China feels a need to react to the United States and allied forces when they conduct exercises in the area that China considers its sphere of influence,” said Alexander Huang, professor at Tamkang University. .

The flights took place in international airspace, but prompted the Taiwanese defense forces to respond. Analysts say the flights show China’s growing military advance as the United States and other rivals push back against China’s claims of its territorial ambitions.

—- Associated Press editor Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.