French senator calls Taiwan a ‘country’ in visit China protests

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The head of a French delegation of senators on Thursday called Taiwan a “country” during a visit to Taipei, risking fury from China which has strongly protested against the trip.

Alain Richard, a former defense minister, arrived on Wednesday for a five-day visit despite repeated warnings from the Chinese embassy in Paris.

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In a speech after he was conferred a top medal of honor by President Tsai Ing-wen, Richard said Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Paris has been doing “a very good job in representing your country”.

France, like most countries, officially recognizes China which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory.

Beijing tries to keep the island isolated on the world stage and balks at the use of the name Taiwan or any reference to it as a country.

It has ramped up pressure on Tsai’s government since her 2016 election win and has aggressively tried to dissuade politicians from visiting in recent years.

The Chinese embassy in Paris warned that the visit would damage the interests of China, Chinese-French relations and “the image of France”, in comments on its website.

Beijing’s ambassador wrote a letter to Richard in February, saying the visit would “clearly violate the one-China principle and send the wrong signal to pro-independence forces in Taiwan”.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry has hailed the trip as “symbolizing the insistence of Taiwan and France, as democratic partners, in upholding free and democratic values”.

“We are very moved that Senator Richard is undaunted by the pressure... to make his third visit to Taiwan,” Tsai said on Thursday.

She called a resolution Richard proposed in support of Taiwan’s international participation, passed by the French senate in May, a “milestone” in relations.

Richard chairs the French senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group and visited the island in 2015 and 2018.

Taipei has accused China of using “wolf warrior” diplomacy to try and scupper trips by foreign politicians.

“Wolf warrior” is a label given to China’s more aggressive posturing under President Xi Jinping that has been embraced by many Chinese diplomats.

Last year, Beijing called a visit to Taiwan by the president of the Czech Senate, Milos Vystrcil, a “provocation” and vowed he would “pay a high price”.

Taiwan’s defense minister said Wednesday that military tensions between the island and China are at their highest in four decades, after around 150 Chinese warplanes -- a record number -- made incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone in recent days.

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