Monday 25th March 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Ruth Edwards.)
Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I begin by saying the obvious: it has been a busy day for me, my good friend the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) as we contend with China, the biggest threat and policy challenge that we face and obviously central to this Adjournment debate on Taiwan. Before I get fully into those remarks, I want to put on record my thanks to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China secretariat, in particular Luke de Pulford, which does so much work for me and parliamentarians across the House on all our issues relating to China. The support it has given me for this debate is no different.

It is entirely right to start the debate on Taiwan by congratulating its new President-elect, Lai Ching-te, on his stunning victory in the recent presidential elections. I also pay tribute to the outgoing President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in late 2022 in Taipei. It has been said that the US President is the leader of the free world, but these days we could all agree that that burden is shared beyond the Oval Office by some others who are willing to stand up to authoritarianism and stand in defence of the democratic open society against the authoritarian closed alternative. Taiwan’s outgoing President, along with others such as Ukraine’s President Zelensky or Estonia’s Prime Minister Kallas, is such a leader. Those of us in the House who believe in open society and the international rules-based system owe a great debt to those such as President Tsai Ing-wen for her public service.

Since the recent presidential elections in January, the context of cross-strait relations has changed. Beijing has sought to establish a new normal through an increased campaign of intimidation and grey zone aggression against Taiwan. China has responded to the outcome of the election by snatching a diplomatic ally, Nauru. It has altered an air route in the Taiwan strait and it is growing increasingly aggressive in its controls of Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands. Reference to a “peaceful reunification” have been dropped entirely, and China’s defence spending now stands at 7.2% of GDP—more than double what it was a decade ago.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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On the hon. Gentleman’s birthday no less, I continue the tradition of giving way to him.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this debate. I think it would be in order for me to say for the benefit of Hansard that I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and others in this Chamber for their courageous stand, undiminished as they are. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the treatment of Taiwan exemplifies the attitude shown by the Chinese to democracy and freedom? It is also shown in their disgraceful behaviour towards the personal privacy of the hon. Gentleman and others and in hacking websites. Does he agree that steps must be taken to show that western democracy will not stand idly by while democratic decisions are overturned and China rules not by agreement but by aggression?

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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The hon. Gentleman pre-empts much of my speech. I agree with every word he said.

China continues its aggressive sabre-rattling in the Taiwan strait by sending warships and planes across the median line of the Taiwan strait and air defence identification zone. It continues its enormous campaign of cyber-aggression against Taiwan’s public and private institutions, including its critical infrastructure. Earlier this month a report by Taiwan’s Defence Ministry described Beijing as having launched “multi-front saturated grey-zone” tactics to harass Taiwan. The previous report in September 2023 noted that China had

“increased the scale, frequency and intensity of drills and exercises against Taiwan”

in order to strengthen its operational preparation for a future invasion.

China is also deploying civilian assets to press its claims, dispatching civil aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and weather balloons to fly close to and over Taiwan. It is using marine survey vessels and hydrographic survey ships as a cover for its military. It is also deploying a maritime militia, the largest fleet ever put to sea, to advance geopolitical objectives. Those moves are exactly what I mean by trying to establish a new normal, unilaterally changing the status quo across the Taiwan strait and escalating tensions in a region where China’s expansionist behaviour has seen it employ nearly 80 grey zone tactics against neighbouring states. Our inability to deter that kind of aggression is what is emboldening Beijing and its strategic partners Russia and Iran, undermining our security and international security further.

At this point, it is important to consider what the people of Taiwan think. What does Taiwanese public opinion tell us? It is important to stress the value that people in Taiwan clearly place on having an open and democratic way of life. Some 67% of people identify primarily as Taiwanese. Only 3% identify as Chinese. Nearly half support formal independence. That rises to two-thirds if maintaining the status quo were not possible. Only one in 10 want unification with China, but that should not be misread as wanting unification under Communist party rule. That all stands in stark contrast to the view in mainland China, where more than half the population back a full-scale war to take control of Taiwan. It is also important to stress that China has never—never—ruled Taiwan, which is a democracy of 24 million people. When the Minister responds, will she state that the Government are committed to the principle of self-determination, which applies to the people of Taiwan?

Although the UK position continues to be defined by the one-China policy and the maintenance of the status quo, the one-China policy does not equate to, and has never equated to, an acceptance of Beijing’s one-China principle that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, despite what Beijing might say. It is merely a recognition that Beijing makes such a claim. By its actions, China has unilaterally and consciously changed the status quo, and is seeking to create the new normal I have outlined. It has consistently done so along its border, over the Senkaku islands and in the South China sea. My question to the Minister is: why do the Government keep repeating that it is the UK position to maintain the status quo, as the status quo itself is being unilaterally changed and eroded by China?

Part of the reason I wanted to bring the debate forward is the importance of Taiwan to the global economy, as well as our own economy. In a recent report earlier this year, Bloomberg Economics estimated that the first-year price tag of a war in the Taiwan strait would sit at around $10 trillion, equal to about 10% of global GDP, while a blockade would equate to about 5% of the global economy. One company, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, makes two in three semiconductors and 90% of the world’s most advanced chips.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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The TSMC makes a massive proportion of silicon chips. While the UK has niche strengths in semiconductor design and compound conductors, does the hon. Gentleman share the view that Britain will remain dependent on Taiwan for silicon chips for a long time to come?

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. And this is not just a uniquely British issue; this is an issue for the entire western and democratic world. Chips are just one area of a great number where that overreliance is a threat to our economic and security interests. The total market cap of TSMC’s 20 customers is worth around $7.4 trillion. To put that in context, that is over twice the size of the British economy.

Taiwan sits at the nexus of shipping lanes that connects the world to China, South Korea and Japan. Together, they account for 40% of global manufacturing output. Half the global container fleet passes through the straits each year, dwarfing the traffic that passes through the Suez canal. With all that in mind, and given that it is the stated objective of the CCP to unify Taiwan with the mainland—either by force or by some other form of coercion—may I ask the Minister what modelling the Government have done of the impact of a war, or a blockade of Taiwan, on the UK economy? May I also ask her what industries and sectors would be most at risk? Is there a strategy for de-risking, and what engagement has there been with industry on a potential shock in the Taiwan strait?

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Ruth Edwards.)
Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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It is about five years since I opened an Adjournment debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I hope you will forgive me for forgetting the rules.

Let me return to my questions to the Minister about de-risking. May I ask what engagement is taking place with public institutions, not least the devolved Governments with responsibility for universities—just one part of our society that is hugely dependent on cash from China?

I suppose those questions can be boiled down to this: what is being done to build the economic resilience that is needed to prepare us for what would be an economic shock bigger than the financial crisis and the covid pandemic combined, or—I asked this question earlier, following the Government’s response to the news of Chinese espionage—are we again going to turn up to a gunfight with a wooden spoon?

Let me turn to the UK’s relations with Taiwan. The UK is Taiwan’s third biggest trading partner in Europe and the 21st largest overall, with bilateral trade totalling £8.6 billion in 2022. I should also say, to be fair to the Government, that the enhanced trade partnership arrangement that the UK signed with Taiwan last November promises further growth, and is a good model for other European countries to follow. In response, as was expected, Beijing has demanded that the UK stop using trade to improve relations with Taiwan. Promoting cultural exchanges and people-to-people contact is obviously a good thing and we want to see more of it, but yet again Beijing has sought to stop Taiwan doing the same. It is persecuting artists and cultural figures, which is, of course, creating a chilling effect within Taiwan’s creative industries.

I want to say something about Taiwan’s resilience to hostile disinformation, not least in the context of its experience of dealing with such disinformation from China during the recent elections. I suggest to the Government that we should work with Taiwan and learn from its experience. During the elections we saw disinformation attacks on a previously unknown scale, including the sponsorship of conspiracies with the aim of undermining trust in the electoral process and in public institutions. There is much that we can learn from the way in which Taiwan deals with that. Its experience of hostile disinformation attacks is extraordinary, and it would be negligent of us not to seek to learn from it.

On relations more broadly, there are opportunities for the building of new partnerships, new exchanges and new relationships, but may I ask the Government to consider reviewing the status of the Taipei Representative Office, as appropriate, given the importance to the UK of Taiwan both as a trading partner and as a country with which we share a common interest and common values?

Today’s age of geopolitical insecurity and competition is one that cannot be sat out. Gramsci described an “interregnum” in which “the old is dying” and the new is struggling to be born. Our old ways of thinking on China—on Taiwan—are indeed old, and we need new ideas fit for the modern age and the challenges that come with it. The China challenge that we must all confront is not, as some think, a faraway foreign policy issue, but the confluence of foreign and domestic policy that touches every aspect of our society: economics, technology, democracy, energy security, trade, and so much more. Taiwan is central to that challenge, and the competition between an open society and a closed society is represented as well as it is in Taiwan in only a few places. Just like our friends in Ukraine, our friends in Taiwan want to live in an open and free society, so we must continue to offer them our full support and our full solidarity—not in words, but in actions.

I ask the Minister genuinely to seek new ways to upgrade and modernise our relationship with Taiwan—new partnerships, new institutions, new collaborations, and new and positive opportunities. We should do that with confidence and a sense of purpose, but in the full knowledge that, in standing with Taiwan, we will be on the right side of history.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) for securing the debate, and I thank him and other hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. I will do my best to respond to all the points that have been raised.

Taiwan is a thriving economy of over 23 million people, with whom the UK shares both values and deep ties, and Members of this House will be familiar with the unique nature of our relationship. Although we have no diplomatic relations, we have strong unofficial links built on many shared interests, including security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, trade, innovation, climate action and global health. Our engagement on these important issues is supported by the British Office Taipei and the Taipei Representative Office in London.

The UK and Taiwan share a thriving £8 billion trade and investment relationship, which encompasses a wide range of goods and services, not least the UK’s export of over £340 million-worth of Scotch whisky to Taiwan last year alone—always a good statistic. Our enhanced trade partnership, which we announced last year, will further strengthen this trade relationship. Meanwhile, as the hon. Gentleman highlighted, Taiwan produces most of the high-performance semiconductors that drive our global digital economy. It therefore has a critical role in the technology supply chains that underpin global markets, and it invests heavily in research innovation.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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The European Union currently has a 9% market share in semiconductors globally, and has set an ambition for 20% by the year 2030. Will the Minister enlighten us on the UK’s ambition for semiconductor manufacture?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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I do not have the figures to hand, but we want to see our flourishing science and technology co-operation continue to grow. That was set out in the Government’s national semiconductor strategy that we published last year, to which I would point the hon. Gentleman.

We hold regular expert-level talks with Taiwan on a range of important issues, especially energy and health. We are close partners on climate action, and are increasingly sharing our expertise on offshore wind and multi-use port development. Our enhanced trade partnership, which is a really important developing area, will further deepen our mutual co-operation on net zero technologies, which are vital to both energy security and our shared imperative to keep global temperatures from rising even more perilously.

The hon. Member for Glasgow South eloquently stated that the UK’s long-standing position is that we believe the Taiwan issue should be settled peacefully by people on both sides of the strait, without the threat or use of force or coercion. The UK and the wider world have a clear interest in enduring peace and stability in the strait and throughout the Indo-Pacific, because a conflict across the strait would have a tragic human cost, but it would also be a tragedy for livelihoods across the region and have a wider global impact. Taiwan and the Taiwan strait are vital links in the global economy, driving prosperity and innovation. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, a conflict could destroy world trade by up to 10% of the global economy, according to Bloomberg analysis. No country, whether high, middle or low income, could possibly shield itself from the economic repercussions of such a crisis, including China. That is why this Government are clear that we do not support any unilateral attempts to alter the status quo of the Taiwan strait.

I would like to assure Members that we are continually working to strengthen the UK’s contingency planning across a range of international challenges, including threats to global supply chains. I hope that Members will be aware of the recently launched critical imports and supply chain strategy, published by the Department for Business and Trade, which tackles some of these issues in greater depth than I will set out this evening.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
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Of course we would all agree with the Minister that none of us wants to see change to the status quo—certainly not a violent change to the status quo—in cross-strait relations, but there is a change, and China is creating this new normal as we speak. It has been doing so for some time now and the strategy of the Government and our western partners is clearly not deterring that, so what changes will we see from the Minister and from our western partners? On the issue of the Bloomberg analysis, is there also Government analysis and will she publish it?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We have a great deal of work ongoing, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, and in due course I am sure we will bring it to the House. Importantly, he has stated clearly—I know he speaks for all Members even though there are only a few of us here this evening—that the UK Government’s position is one that is held by all Members of the House and that it should be clearly heard in support of that Taiwan status quo.

The hon. Member mentioned that Taiwan held its presidential and legislative elections just a few weeks ago. As my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary said at the time, those elections are testament to Taiwan’s incredibly vibrant democracy, and I join him in offering warm congratulations to William Lai and his party on his successful election. However, this comes at a time when China’s actions are threatening to undermine peace and stability in the strait. China is refusing to renounce the use of force in pursuit of its objectives. It is deploying economic power to coerce countries with which it disagrees over Taiwan, as it did with Lithuania just recently, and it continually takes assertive actions near Taiwan, including military flights, which are escalating tensions. This is not the conduct of a responsible international actor, and it is not conducive to ensuring peace and stability across the strait.

That is why the UK continues to work with our international partners to underscore the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan strait, as we did most recently in our statement by G7 leaders in December. The Foreign Secretary reiterated this in his statement following the election that I have just mentioned. That is why the UK continues to support Taiwan’s inclusion internationally, where that is clearly in the global public interest. This Government believe that the people of Taiwan have a valuable contribution to make on many issues of global concern, and that the international community should be able to benefit from Taiwanese expertise in a range of areas. We therefore continue to work hard with our partners to support Taiwan’s participation in international organisations, as a member where statehood is not a prerequisite and as an observer or guest where it is. For example, we continue to make the case for Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Assembly, as its inclusion benefits global health, including through its expert participation in technical meetings and information exchanges.

To conclude, the Government continue the UK’s long-standing approach to relations across the Taiwan strait. We continue to engage with Taiwan within the bounds of our unofficial relationship, which brings many benefits to both of us. We continue to work closely with our international partners to advocate for peace and stability and to discourage any activity that undermines the status quo. We continue to advocate for Taiwan’s meaningful international participation. Through these channels, the UK has an important role to play in supporting continued peace and stability in the strait, and we can only benefit from that continued engagement with Taiwan as a thriving democracy and an important economic partner.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.