July 15, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra threaten to flare anew over a stream of Australian lawmakers visiting Taiwan, including former Prime Minister Scott Morrison who triggered a breakdown in relations with China in 2020.

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A delegation of Australian parliamentarians this week traveled to Taipei, where they met with President Tsai Ing-wen. Morrison told the Australian newspaper that he is intending to visit next month.

The news provoked a strong reaction from China, with Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian saying visits to Taiwan by Australian politicians sent the wrong message.

“Australian members of parliament or the former prime minister are both political figures,” Xiao told journalists at an event honoring the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “Visiting Taiwan carries an obvious political meaning, and is a wrong signal sent to Taiwan independence forces.”

Although Taiwan has been self-ruled since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, the government in Beijing views the island as a renegade province. President Xi Jinping has threatened to use force as a last resort to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

The dispute threatens to interrupt a rapid improvement in diplomatic ties between Australia and China following the election of the center-left Labor government in May 2022. High-level ministerial meetings have restarted, and China has lifted trade tariffs on some Australian exports, including barley, that were imposed at the low point of relations in 2020.

Morrison, a strident critic of the Chinese government, said in response to Xiao’s comments that Beijing had no right to tell Australian lawmakers where they could and couldn’t travel.

“The Chinese government in Beijing does not get to decide whether Australian members of parliament can visit Taiwan or not, nor do they get to tell Australians or the world what Australia’s One China policy means,” he told The Australian newspaper.

–With assistance from Phila Siu.

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