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Australian legislators set to visit Taiwan

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 03/12/2022 Agence France-Presse
NIGHT OUT People wearing face masks are seen at the entrance of a night market in Taiwan’s capital Taipei on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. AP PHOTO © Provided by The Manila Times NIGHT OUT People wearing face masks are seen at the entrance of a night market in Taiwan’s capital Taipei on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. AP PHOTO

SYDNEY: A group of Australian members of parliament (MPs) will leave on Sunday for a five-day visit to Taiwan, a spokesman for one of the politicians said on Saturday, risking China's ire just as Beijing-Canberra relations appeared to be thawing.

The bipartisan trip will be the first such Taiwan visit in more than three years, a period marked by a long disruption to air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Details of the visit were confirmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP) by a spokesman for Scott Buchholz, a Conservative MP who is in the delegation.

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.

Albanese said both major Australian political parties supported the "One China" policy, which recognizes Beijing, not Taipei, while backing the status quo on the self-ruling island.

Asked about the aims of the trip, he said: "I have no idea. I'm not going. You should ask them."

The delegation of six MPs includes members of the center-left ruling Labor Party, as well as the conservative opposition Liberal Party and its ally, the National Party.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, of the National Party, is part of the group, the spokesman for Buchholz said.

The MPs were scheduled to meet Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and other senior officials, according to the Weekend Australian.

The visit, backed by Taiwan, aimed to convey a desire for peace in the Asia-Pacific region, it said.

"Just because we are friends with Taiwan does not mean we can't be friends with China," Buchholz told the paper.

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

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for better relations with Australia when he met Albanese during the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia's resort island of Bali last month, the first formal meeting between their two countries in years.

It was seen as an opening for improved ties between the major trading partners.

China has been angered by Australia's willingness to legislate against overseas influence operations, its ban on Huawei from Fifth Generation contracts and its 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, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, bristles at foreign lawmakers' visits to the island, describing them as interference in its domestic affairs.

It notably retaliated against outgoing US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in early August by staging military drills of unprecedented scale around the island.

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