The former premier’s Taiwan trip is nothing but a provocation for Beijing to lash out at London, sinking any constructive dialogue
Liz Truss will always be remembered as a disastrous prime minister who spent only a month in office and was outlasted by a head of lettuce.
Her disastrous budget plans sent shudders through the UK economy, eliciting criticism from the British people, MPs and foreign leaders alike. Her ideology-driven political decisions found little sympathy with the public, which repaid her with abysmal approval ratings.
You’d think someone like that would have little credibility as a political adviser, but that apparently isn’t the case. Taiwan, which frequently pays washed-up Western right-wing fanatics to come and visit them as a political stunt, invited Liz Truss to Taipei on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Truss then gave a hawkish speech where she called for an end to all cooperation and dialogue with Beijing and the preparation of Russia-style sanctions in the event of a Taiwan conflict. She also repeated her suggestion of an “Economic NATO” – despite a track record that makes her the last person you’d want to listen to for economic advice.
Since her brief stay in Downing Street, she has rebranded herself as a full-time anti-China hawk, and now uses her party position and credentials as a former prime minister to try to undermine her successor’s attempts to carefully edge back towards engagement with China. Truss was always a fantasist, a pro-Brexit zealot who embraced a confrontational stance during her time as foreign secretary.
However, as you can imagine, all you need to do to reinvent yourself these days is to become a China basher. It doesn’t matter how much of a joke you otherwise might be. Hence, the UK media made sure that her stay and words in Taiwan were given widespread coverage without the context of her political failures. The UK government has already distanced itself from her trip – a fact that Beijing should take careful notice of (and no doubt has).
The British Conservative Party has always been rife with that sort of factionalism. While the opposition Labour Party tends to hard-line suppress the more ideological wing of its MPs (hence the purge of the left-wing Corbynite faction), Tory ideologues have long held power as a “disruptive” force on the government itself, undermining its foreign policy. It’s a fracture which emerged during the Margaret Thatcher era, where following the breakdown of the “post-war consensus” of economic pragmatism, ideology gained ascendency in the party and soon manifested into Euroscepticism.
This tug of war lasted 30 years, making it harder for Conservative prime ministers to maintain a working relationship with the EU, and eventually culminating in Brexit itself. Once that was out of the way, these ideologues found a new target: China. While Truss has opportunistically jumped on this bandwagon, former arch-Brexiter Iain Duncan Smith had already made himself the UK’s Sinophobe-in-chief. Their common goal is simply to undermine stable ties with Beijing and provoke conflict by spurring on backbench rebellions, making them a challenge for the government to handle.
Consequently, while Truss may be a national laughingstock thanks to her disastrous tenure as prime minister, this new role she is taking on enables her to cause disruption on this issue. Taiwan, of course, knows this, because its entire foreign policy is premised on trying to undermine the ties of other countries’ relationships with Beijing by spending large amounts of money on inviting figures such as Truss. The timing of the trip was deliberate, coming immediately after the British foreign secretary’s engagement with a senior Chinese official following the coronation of King Charles III.
Taipei hopes that Beijing’s backlash over the Truss visit will target the UK government as a whole and punish the country. China has a record for being abrasive like this, having done so with the Czech Republic in the past and not winning any friends there as a result. If Truss is therefore allowed to dictate the flow of UK-China relations, she wins. Besides her, the UK has never been provocative on Taiwan at a senior level such as with former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit last year for the US.
Thus, rather than causing a crisis, China should wait until the upcoming Taiwan elections take place and hope that the more pro-China Kuomintang Party (KMT), which once governed the whole country, will take power and stabilize cross-strait ties again. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) thrives off creating crises, as does the US with its military deployments, and amidst it all there is no intention for cool heads to prevail. While Pelosi was a blatant violation and huge provocation of the One China policy and US commitment to it, the Truss trip is an opportunistic PR stunt by a washed-up has-been who almost ran her country into the ground in a month. Ignore, move on and forget.