Senior Tories warn Liz Truss risks undermining Rishi Sunak with Taiwan trip
Liz Truss’s visit to Taiwan risks undermining Rishi Sunak on the world stage, senior Conservatives have warned.
The former prime minister was accused of embarking on a trip that looks “selfish and disloyal” and which will “complicate” the government’s position on China.
It comes as Mr Sunak prepares to attend his first meeting of the G7 group of world leaders, at which the issue of how to deal with China is expected to be discussed.
Ms Truss will visit Taiwan this week to give a speech billed as showing “solidarity” with the self-governed island in the face of “increasingly aggressive behaviour” from Beijing.
She is expected to urge the West to “get real about military and defence cooperation” to avoid conflict in the South China Sea, saying: “We cannot pretend there can be meaningful deterrence without hard power.”
Taiwan is self-governing and a democracy but is viewed by China as a breakaway province which must unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons defence committee, said of Ms Truss’s trip: “All former Tory prime ministers recognise how every single comment, speech or public engagement given will be scrutinised by the media to see if they are faithful to their successor.
“If there is a question that any action might challenge or distract from the party’s current agenda or electoral prospects then the former PMs should ask themselves why go ahead as it will simply look selfish and disloyal.”
He added: “Beijing will not recognise Truss travelling as independent from government but will interpret this as instructions from No 10.
“It, therefore, complicates the government’s own position on China”.
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind predicted the trip would trigger a “very adverse hostile reaction from the Chinese”.
“The Chinese government will assume, because it would automatically apply in their own case, that if Ms Truss as a former British prime minister is going to Taiwan it must be with the approval of our government,” he added.
No 10 declined to comment.
The government has said it would not get involved in the “independent travel decisions of a private citizen who is not a member of the government”.
An ally of Ms Truss accused those criticising the visit of playing into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
They said: “We know all too well that the Chinese government is hostile to Western visitors going to Taiwan: President Xi is trying to bully Western politicians into not visiting or speaking out on this issue precisely so that a takeover of Taiwan can eventually become a fait accompli. Liz is not going to be bullied by the regime in Beijing and those carping from the sidelines about her visit are playing into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda and ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Earlier this week Alicia Kearns, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee, attacked the planned visit as “the worst kind of Instagram diplomacy”.