A group of French senators including a former defence minister will visit Taiwan this week, the island’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, with the visit coming at a time of soaring tensions between Taipei and Beijing and despite China’s opposition.
Their trip comes after China flew almost 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone over a four day period beginning Oct. 1, China’s National Day holiday.
China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory and is always angered by any trips to the island by foreign officials.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the delegation will be lead by Alain Richard, head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group who was the country’s defence minister from 1997 to 2002 under President Jacques Chirac. Richard has visited Taiwan twice before, in 2015 and 2018.
Ou said Richard would be coming despite pressure from China.
“We are very moved by this and admire it,” she added, saying further details would be provided later.
The other senators coming are Max Brisson and André Vallini, both vice presidents of the friendship group, and the group’s secretary Olivier Cadic, according to French and Taiwanese media reports.
France, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but has previously sold weapons to the island – six frigates in 1991, and 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets the following year.
In March, the Chinese embassy in Paris warned against lawmakers meeting Taiwanese officials, prompting a rebuff from the French foreign ministry, which said French senators are free to meet whomever they wish when they travel.
Taiwan’s government has denounced China’s pressure against it, and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, and that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.