Truss backer Brandon Lewis cool on previous call to ARM Taiwan

Liz Truss supporter Brandon Lewis rows back on her previous calls to send WEAPONS to Taiwan – and instead says UK could offer ‘moral or economic support’ to island nation amid heightened tensions with China

  • In June Truss told MPs Taiwan should be sent means to defend itself from China
  • Britain currently has no defence or diplomatic ties with Taipei 
  • China last night revealed plans to surround Taiwan and blockade the island 
  • Serious threat to independence as Beijing escalates tensions over Pelosi visit 

Liz Truss’s leadership campaign appeared to row back on claims that the UK should send weapons to Taiwan today, amid heightened tensions with China.

The Foreign Secretary raised eyebrows in June when she told a parliamentary committee the tiny island nation should be given the means to defend itself from a Communist invasion. 

Britain currently has no defence or diplomatic ties with Taipei, which fears military action from an increasingly hostile and territorial Beijing regime.

China last night revealed it plans to  surround Taiwan and effectively blockade the island with massive military drills in the most-serious threat to its independence in decades as Beijing escalates tensions over Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

But asked today whether the Truss offer of military aid still stood, supporter Brandon Lewis would not commit to it. 

The former Northern Ireland Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The point Liz was making to the select committee was that we need to be giving the support early where people need it. 

‘Now, in different cases that will mean different things, it can be moral support, it could be economic support; in Ukraine’s case, yes, that was about defensive weapons support.’

China’s UK ambassador Zheng Zeguang last night vowed ‘severe consequences’ if British lawmakers visit Taiwan.

At a press conference he warned Britain not to ‘follow the US’s footsteps’. Responding to remarks about China by Sunak and Truss, he also urged British politicians to ‘be realistic’ about the fundamentals of bilateral relations.

Asked today whether the Truss offer of military aid still stood, supporter Brandon Lewis would not commit to it

The Foreign Secretary raised eyebrows in June when she told a parliamentary committee the tiny Island nation should be given the means to defend itself from a Communist invasion.

China is holding six days of military drills around Taiwan that will cross into its territorial waters in what Taipei has called a serious breach of international norms

The drills were announced in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting the island, becoming the most-senior US politician to do so since 1997

The Truss leadership campaign has previously highlighted her role as Foreign Secretary in helping ‘lead the international response to increased Chinese aggression’ and ‘this will only continue when she becomes prime minister’. 

In a BBC debate last week she accused rival Rishi Sunak of pushing for a closer relationship with China as the candidates were asked about foreign affairs.

The ex-chancellor said there was a need to acknowledge that Beijing is a ‘threat to our national security, it is a threat to our economic security and that’s why as chancellor I was pleased we could put forward the National Security and Investment Bill’.

But the Foreign Secretary challenged his comments, saying: ‘As recently as a month ago you were pushing for closer trade relationships with China.

‘This is not something you’ve advocated in government, I’m delighted that you’ve come round to my way of thinking but it has been driven by the Foreign Office – the tougher stance that we’ve taken on China.’

Six days of Chinese military exercises kicked off last night with live-fire drills in and around the Taiwan strait. 

But US House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi – who on Tuesday became the most-senior politician to visit Taiwan since 1997, when China was last engaged in sabre-rattling – refused to back down, defiantly telling Beijing that the US ‘will not abandon its commitment’ as she met with President President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei.  

Officially the UK position has been to seek a ‘peaceful resolution’ between the countries. 

If embarked upon, Ms Truss’s plan would probably enrage the Chinese and leave Britain even shorter on military equipment.

Chinese anti-aircraft forces in its Eastern Theatre – which covers the Taiwan Strait – take part in live-fire exercises overnight in an effort to intimidate Taipei and the US

Anti-aircraft fire streaks into the skies over Fujian, the Chinese province closest to Taiwan, overnight in a show-of-strength intended to intimidate America and the democratic government in Taipei

A Chinese anti-aircraft crew open fire with a mobile gun during live-fire drills that began on Tuesday and will last until Thursday, when even larger sea and air drills begin

In June she told the foreign affairs committee: ‘There is always a tendency, and we’ve seen this prior to the Ukraine war, of wishful thinking, to hope more bad things won’t happen and to wait until it is too late.

‘We should have done things earlier, we should have been supplying defensive weapons into Ukraine earlier. We need to learn that lesson for Taiwan. Every piece of equipment we have sent takes months of training, so the sooner we do it the better.’

China has more warships than the US and more than 2,000 combat aircraft. So it was unclear how the UK could change the balance of military power.

A parliamentary report published earlier this year revealed the Royal Navy cannot fulfil all the Government’s existing ambitions – before any consideration is given to handing expensive equipment to the Taiwanese. The Royal Navy has increased its presence in the South China Sea in recent years, with vessels conducting freedom of navigation patrols intended to deter the Chinese.

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