U.K. Security Minister Breaks with Convention to Meet Taiwan Minister

Reuters file photo
British Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat speaks in Nairobi on May 10.

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s security minister, Tom Tugendhat, met Taiwan’s digital minister on Wednesday, people with knowledge of the talks said, a meeting that breaks with conventional British foreign policy and risks infuriating the Chinese government.

Britain only has formal diplomatic relations with Beijing, but maintains a de facto embassy in Taipei. Although junior British ministers hold talks with their Taiwanese counterparts, the convention was that senior British ministers do not meet with Taiwanese officials.

One source said the meeting with the Taiwanese minister, Audrey Tang, was about mutual security interests.

China considers democratically governed Taiwan as part of its territory and fiercely objects to perceived foreign interference with the island.

Tugendhat, who was sanctioned by China two years ago for speaking out about alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, is not a full cabinet minister but attends cabinet meetings in his role as security minister, where he is responsible for countering terrorism, domestic state threats and economic crime.

Luke de Pulford, the executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group made up of lawmakers from democratic countries concerned about Beijing’s behaviour, said to his knowledge it was the first time a British minister who attends cabinet had met with a Taiwanese minister.

“This is extremely welcome and sends the right message,” he said. “The security minister should be congratulated for facing down pressure from other departments and setting a new precedent, which all ministers can now follow.”

The sensitivity of the meeting was borne out by the reluctance of several serving officials and departments to talk to Reuters about what was discussed.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We do not routinely comment on private ministerial meetings.”

Tang’s office declined to comment.

Tang on Thursday posted a picture on Twitter of her reading “The New Technology State: How Our Digital Dreams Became Societal Nightmares – and What We Can Do about It,” a soon-to-be-published book whose author, Bill Raduchel, says it evolved from conversations with Tugendhat in 2019.

“Learning from @TomTugendhat delivers dividends,” she said in the tweet. “Let’s #FreeTheFuture — together!”

Tang was on a rare high-level ministerial trip to Britain this week. Her office said she was expected to visit government departments and meet a company specialising in low-earth orbit satellites.

The last Taiwanese minister known to have visited Britain was Taiwan’s top trade negotiator, John Deng, who came last June.

Last November, Britain’s then-junior trade minister, Greg Hands, went to Taiwan and met President Tsai Ing-wen. China denounced the trip, as it does with all such interactions.