TAIPEI, TAIWAN — British former prime minister Liz Truss on a visit to Taiwan Wednesday will set up a full-throated clash with both China and her successor Rishi Sunak in demanding the West get tough with Beijing.
In a speech in Taipei, Truss is due to call for Sunak to make good on his Conservative leadership campaign pledge last year to designate China as a strategic “threat”.
She will also demand that he “immediately” shut down UK-based Confucius Institutes controlled by the communist government and replace them with cultural centres run by people from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The West cannot avoid another “Cold War” with China, the former Conservative leader will argue in the speech to the Prospect Foundation in Taipei, according to excerpts released by her office.
“The only choice we have is whether we appease and accommodate — or we take action to prevent conflict.”
The speech will accuse Sunak’s and other Western governments of “trying to cling on to the idea that we can cooperate with China on issues like climate change as if there is nothing wrong”.
“But without freedom and democracy, there is nothing else. We know what happens to the environment or world health under totalitarian regimes that don’t tell the truth.”
“You can’t believe a word they say.”
Sunak has pushed back on Truss’s tough rhetoric against China issued before and during her 49-day tenure in 10 Downing Street last year, when her radical economic policies crashed financial markets.
Since then, she has been trying to rebuild her profile with a series of speeches overseas, including in Tokyo, Washington and Copenhagen on Monday.
Beijing — which strongly opposes any formal engagement with Taiwan — slammed the planned visit as a “dangerous political show which will do nothing but harm to the UK”.
“Truss and the like are colluding with the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces to provoke confrontation and escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London said in a statement.
“What they did has fully revealed their sinister intentions,” the statement added, warning that Truss’s visit would serve to “further expose herself as a failed politician and get more backlash from the Chinese people.”
Truss has also faced accusations back home that she is indulging in irresponsible sabre-rattling in a bid to maintain her political relevance.
“The (Taiwan) trip is performative, not substantive,” House of Commons foreign relations committee chair Alicia Kearns told The Guardian newspaper.
“It is the worst kind of example of Instagram diplomacy,” the Conservative said, recalling previous criticism of Truss’s tireless self-promotion on social media.
Kearns added the trip is likely to deepen problems for Taiwan after China fired missiles as part of military exercises in response to an August visit by then-speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Truss’s spokesperson hit back that she was coming at the invitation of Taiwan’s government: “They are better placed to know what is in the interests of the Taiwanese people than (Kearns).”