TAIPEI -Taiwan will continue to play its role as a member of the international community and ensure regional peace and stability, President Tsai Ing-wen told a visiting delegation of French senators on Thursday amid escalating tensions with China.
The four senators, led by former defence minister Alain Richard, arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday despite the strong objections of China, which views the island as its own territory and is always angered by visits of foreign officials.
The visit by the senators comes after four straight days, beginning last Friday, of massed Chinese air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence zone – moves that drew the concern of the United States and its allies.
Speaking to the senators at the presidential office, Tsai thanked France for its concern about the situation in the Taiwan Strait and support for its international participation.
“We will continue to fulfil our responsibilities as members of the international community to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We also hope to make more contributions to the world along with France,” she added.
Richard, head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, was France’s defence minister from 1997 to 2002 under President Jacques Chirac. Richard has visited Taiwan twice before, in 2015 and 2018.
Tsai said Taiwan was “very moved” Richard decided to come, despite what she described as “pressure” – a reference to China.
In March, the Chinese Embassy in Paris warned against lawmakers meeting Taiwanese officials, prompting a rebuff at the time from the French Foreign Ministry.
“French lawmakers decide independently on their travel plans and their contacts, by virtue of the principle of the separation of powers,’ the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Tsai did not directly mention the recent Chinese air force activities.
The senators are not the only senior foreign visitors in Taiwan at the moment.
Later on Thursday, Tsai will meet former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.
Neither France nor Australia have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, like most countries.
Taiwan has been keen to bolster its ties with other democracies as China steps up its pressure campaign, trying to force the island to accept Chinese sovereignty.
The Taiwanese government has denounced China’s moves, and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, and that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.