Rishi Sunak has pledged to maintain a “united and aligned” position with allies on Taiwan after Liz Truss called for the West to take a stronger stance towards China in a risky visit to Taipei.
The former prime minister was accused by Beijing on Wednesday of putting on a “dangerous political show” that will harm the UK when she delivered a hawkish speech in Taiwan.
Among the short-lived Tory leader’s demands was for the disputed self-governing country to join a Pacific trade pact as China takes a more aggressive stance in pressing for it to be commanded by the mainland.
But Ms Truss’s successor Mr Sunak, carrying out a diplomatic mission to Japan, rejected her demand for the UK to champion Taiwan’s bid to enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
“Our position is united and aligned with our allies, and will continue.”
Mr Sunak declined to criticise Ms Truss’s visit to Taiwan, telling reporters he had been “busy” and “haven’t actually seen the details of it”.
But he added: “I can tell you that our approach to Taiwan is long-standing and it hasn’t changed. And again, it’s an approach that is completely aligned in substance and in language with all our allies.”
The Prime Minister said the new defence and technology pact he will sign with Japan this week was “hugely significant” for the Indo-Pacific region.
He said: “So we have a strong and increasing footprint in the security of the Indo-Pacific region. We have a strong interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific. We do not believe in any change in the status quo by force or coercion.”
Ms Truss went to Taiwan despite Beijing having a track record of retaliation when Western politicians visit, including a naval and air force blockade after senior US congresswoman Nancy Pelosi visited.
“If Beijing keeps its word and escalates aggression towards Taiwan, substantial decoupling will be unavoidable,” she said.
“I know that when we first put sanctions on Russia when I was foreign secretary, there was a lot of resistance from organisations in the UK who were deeply embedded already with Russia.
“We need to be on the lookout for that with respect to China and take action now to make sure we’re prepared.”
Before Ms Truss stood up to make her speech, the Chinese embassy to the UK issued a statement warning that her speech would “harm” Britain, labelling it a “provocative move”.
It urged her to stop defending Taiwanese independence or else “further expose herself as a failed politician and get more backlash from the Chinese people”.
“British politician Liz Truss’s recent visit to Taiwan is a dangerous political show which will do nothing but harm to the UK,” an embassy spokesman said.
“Any violation of the one-China principle will have serious consequences for China-UK relations.”