Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss called for a Cold War-style “economic NATO” to counter the Chinese regime’s economic dominance during a visit to Taipei on Wednesday.
She also urged “all free nations” to back the self-governing republic’s freedom, drawing the ire of Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the island.
Truss is the first former British prime minister to visit Taiwan since Margaret Thatcher’s trip to the island in the 1990s.
In a keynote speech to think tank The Prospect Foundation, Truss said she believes democratic countries need “something similar to” the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, an informal Western Bloc organisation that coordinated embargoes against the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.
“What I want to see on the economic side is the development of an economic NATO. Coordination between countries that support freedom and proper free enterprise,” she said.
“This would be an organisation that had proper ministerial representation and the right policies in place to agree the best approach towards China—the best approach to take on technology exports, the best approach in the event of economic coercion, the best approach on trade and investment.”
‘Too Many Mixed Messages’
Criticising “too many mixed messages from the free world,” Truss said the UK’s Integrated Review needs to “make it absolutely clear that China is a threat,” and warned against trusting the Chinese regime and attempts to “cling on the idea that we can somehow cooperate with China on issues like climate change as if there’s nothing wrong.”
During his unsuccessful bid to become prime minister last summer, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Chinese regime poses “the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century” and promised a series of measures including the closing of Confucius Institutes.
Sunak entered No. 10 Downing Street after Truss’s short stint as prime minister, during which she reportedly planned to label China as a threat in the Integrated Review update.
But the update later designated communist China as an “epoch-defining challenge” and said the UK would engage with the regime on “global challenges including climate and global health” while strengthening supply chain security and working with global allies.
Sunak and Foreign Secretary Jame Cleverly have also rejected rhetoric of having a cold war with China, arguing the country plays a significant role in global affairs.
But Truss said it’s not up to the West to choose whether or not it wants to be in a cold war, as Beijing “has already embarked on a self-reliance drive,” been “growing its navy at an alarming rate,” and “formed alliances with other nations that want to see the free world in decline.”
“The only choice we have is do we appease and accommodate that strategy or do we take action now to prevent conflict,” Truss said.
The former prime minister argued that Taipei is “on the front line of the global battle for freedom” and “is the most consequential place in the world for what is the most consequential struggle of our time,” and criticized the belief that “somehow a Chinese takeover of Taiwan is inevitable,” calling it the “biggest danger for the future of Taiwan.”
She warned the UK government against future integration with the Chinese economy, urging ministers to rule out the resumption of the UK–China economic and financial dialogue and the UK–China Joint Economic and Trade Commission—two trade talks that were put on hold since 2019 and 2018, respectively, following Beijing’s clampdown in Hong Kong.
She also said that European countries shouldn’t “wash their hands of Taiwan” because of geographic distance as “a blockade or an invasion of Taiwan would undermine freedom and democracy in Europe.”
The Chinese Embassy in London called Truss’s visit a “dangerous political show” that would “only bring harm to the UK,” and accused the former prime minister of siding with “Taiwanese separatists” and ramping up tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
A UK government minister sought to distance the government from Truss’s statement, telling Sky News that Truss is now “a backbencher” who’s free to “go around and socialise.”