Australian MPs set to visit Taiwan

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A bipartisan group of Australian MPs is set to visit Taiwan, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed Saturday, risking China’s ire just as their icy relations appeared to thaw.

Albanese sought to play down the trip’s significance when asked about a Weekend Australian newspaper report that the politicians were leaving for Taiwan on Sunday, the first such trip in more than three years.

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“There have been backbench visits to Taiwan for a long time. This is another one. This isn’t a government visit,” he told reporters during a visit to rural South Australia.

The Australian leader said both major political parties supported the “one-China” policy, which recognizes Beijing, not Taiwan, as the government of China, while also backing the status quo on the self-ruled island.

Asked about the aims of the Australian parliamentarians’ trip, he said: “I have no idea. I’m not going. You should ask them.”

The Weekend Australian said six politicians, including members of the ruling centre-left Labor Party and the conservative opposition Liberal Party, would visit Taiwan for five days with support from Taipei.

The Australians were scheduled to meet President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and other senior officials, the paper said, with the aim of conveying a desire for peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Just because we are friends with Taiwan does not mean we can’t be friends with China,” Scott Buchholz, a conservative Queensland member of parliament who is in the delegation, told the paper.

Plans for the trip had been kept quiet to prevent China lobbying against it, the report said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for better relations with Australia when he met Albanese in Bali, Indonesia, last month for the first formal summit between the two countries in five years.

It was seen as a chance to improve relations between the countries, which are major trading partners.

China has been angered by Australia’s willingness to legislate against overseas influence operations, to bar Huawei from 5G contracts and to call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Beijing has levied punitive sanctions on Australian goods and frozen ministerial contacts in recent years.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and it bristles at foreign lawmakers’ visits to the island, describing them as foreign interference in its domestic affairs.

Beijing notably retaliated against then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August by staging military drills of unprecedented scale around the island.

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