A group of Australian lawmakers has landed in Taiwan, Taipei’s foreign ministry confirmed Tuesday, defying warnings from Beijing over the visit at a time of rising tensions over the self-ruled island.
“There is a group of bipartisan members of the parliament from Australia currently visiting Taiwan. They are already here," ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters.
The delegation will “discuss a wide array of issues of mutual interests", she said without providing further details.
“We appreciate that the Australian parliament is very friendly to Taiwan," Ou said, calling Taipei’s relationship with Canberra “robust, diverse and mutually beneficial".
The group left Sunday for a five-day visit to Taiwan, according to a spokesman for one delegation member, risking China’s ire just as Beijing-Canberra relations appeared to be thawing.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday expressed opposition to the trip, calling on Australia to adhere to its “one-China principle" and “stop sending the wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces."
Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunited one day — by force if necessary — and has become more bellicose towards the island under President Xi Jinping.
It has responded with growing anger to visits by Western politicians and staged huge military drills to protest at US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August, sending tensions to the highest level in years.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese sought to play down the mission’s significance after it was first reported by the Weekend Australian newspaper.
“There have been backbench visits to Taiwan for a long time. This is another one. This isn’t a government visit," he told reporters.
The delegation of six MPs includes members of the centre-left ruling Labor Party as well as the conservative opposition Liberal Party and its ally, the National Party.
Albanese said the two major Australian political parties supported Canberra’s “One China" policy.
The lawmakers were scheduled to meet Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and other senior officials, according to the Weekend Australian.
Plans for the trip had been kept quiet to prevent China from lobbying against it, the report said.
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