A group of French senators arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday for a five-day visit following a major Chinese demonstration with fighter jets amid the highest tension in decades between China and Taiwan.
The group, led by Senator Ellen Richard, will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s economic and health officials, and the Mainland Affairs Council. According to Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency, former French Defense Minister Richard previously visited Taiwan in 2015 and 2018, and was the head of the Taiwan Friendship Group in the French Senate.
According to local media reports, China’s ambassador to France Lu Shai sent Richard a warning letter in February to cancel his trip to Taiwan.
The visit is likely to draw a rebuke to China, which claims self-governing Taiwan as its territory and therefore opposes any international engagement with the island such as visits by foreign government officials. It has also aggressively preyed on Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies.
In its most recent display of sustained military harassment, China flew fighter jets 149 times toward Taiwan in the four days from Friday to Monday. The White House called the flights risky and destabilizing, while China responded that the US selling weapons to Taiwan and its ships navigating the Taiwan Strait were provocative.
Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told legislators on Wednesday that the situation was “the most dire in 40 years since I was admitted.” Chiu was answering questions as the legislature decides whether to approve a special budget for air and naval defense purchases.
In 1949, China and Taiwan separated in the midst of civil war. Today they have extensive trade and investment ties, but no official ties, and China has mounted increased military, diplomatic and economic pressure to undermine Tsai’s independence-driven administration.