Truss’s trip to Taiwan is a desperate attempt to revive her career

By Imran Khalid | Gwadar Pro May 13, 2023

Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

Liz Truss, the former UK Prime Minister known for her unwavering stance against China, is set to embark on a significant journey next week. The destination? Taiwan. While on the island, Truss will engage with senior officials of the Taiwan government and also take the podium to deliver a much-anticipated keynote speech.

According to reports, this speech may result in a handsome payday for her. But Truss's interest in Taiwan is not solely monetary. She is desperate to revive her dwindling political career after her derisorily shortest stint as British Prime Minister, which lasted only for 44 days because of her faulty financial policies. Since then, she has been desperately trying to resuscitate her political standing in British politics by inciting controversies so as to remain in the headlines.

Her hardline stance against China has been a defining characteristic of her political career, even during her tenure as Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. In fact, Truss has been known to make provocative comments about China in order to bolster her vote bank during her campaign for the British premiership. Despite leaving office, Truss has remained steadfast in her views on China, using various platforms to advocate for a tough stance against the country.

Now, with her upcoming trip to Taiwan, it seems Truss is intent on continuing to make her voice heard on this contentious issue. Truss's recent speeches in Tokyo and Washington DC, including an address to the Heritage Foundation, a rightwing US thinktank, have focused on the need for the West to adopt a more forceful posture towards Beijing. With her recent speeches and her impending visit to Taiwan, Truss is deliberately trying to undermine Prime Minister’s Rishi Sunak’s relatively conciliatory foreign policy towards China.

In a scathing critique of former Liz Truss's upcoming trip to Taiwan, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Alicia Kearns, has rightly billed it as "the worst kind of Instagram diplomacy." This rhetoric is particularly strong given the typically restrained nature of diplomatic discourse. Alicia Kearns believes that Truss's upcoming trip to Taiwan is nothing more than a self-aggrandizing effort to maintain her public profile following her brief stint as head of government last year. Kearns's comments suggest a deep skepticism about the underlying motivations for Truss's visit and the degree to which it is grounded in substantive policy considerations.

Kearns’s remarks reflect growing divisiveness within the ruling Conservative Party on the question of balancing the policy on the scope of engagement with Beijing. It is clear that Truss's actions are drawing significant scrutiny and commentary from a wide range of observers, and her trip is being seen as a reckless misstep in UK foreign policy.

Truss's upcoming trip to Taiwan could complicate the British government's delicate diplomatic dance with China. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has expressed reservations about the prospect of "pulling the shutters down on China," suggesting that Truss's tough stance towards Beijing may run counter to the UK's broader foreign policy objectives. This tension between taking a firm stance on China and maintaining a measured approach to diplomatic relations with Beijing is not unique to the UK, but is rather a recurring theme across much of the Western capitals. The challenge for British policymakers is to strike a balance between defending their national interests and engaging constructively with China on issues of mutual concern. As Truss's trip approaches, the question of how the UK will navigate this delicate diplomatic terrain remains a pressing one.

While the UK may be eager to bolster its ties with Taiwan and take a tough stance against China, it will need to do so in a way that does not undermine its relations with Beijing. It seems that Western politicians have made “trip to Taiwan” as a convenient publicity stunt to attract international and domestic attention, and the DPP government in Seoul is also “financially sponsoring” such “provocative visits” to gain political mileage and misguide the public opinion. The degree to which high-profile visits and speeches are used as vehicles for personal aggrandizement by the Western politicians is reflective of the new trend of politicization of foreign policy.

Despite leaving office, Truss has maintained her tough stance on China and has made no secret of her hard-line views. As tensions continue to simmer between China and Taiwan, Truss's visit is sure to attract attention and could have significant implications for the future of the region. Truss's upcoming trip to Taiwan is a clear example of the internal divisions within the UK's political landscape. She is fully aware that her visit won't carry any official weight and won't have any impact on the volatile situation in the Taiwan Strait.

However, she has chosen to proceed with the trip anyway, likely to appeal to two distinct groups: the hardliners within her own party who want a more confrontational stance towards China, and the pro-American faction in both the UK and the US. By embarking on this visit, Truss is signaling her willingness to take a more assertive stance on China, which could endear her to those who share her views. But, it also underscores the fact that the UK lacks a coherent and unified approach to China, and that individual politicians are free to act on their own accord. But it also highlights the ongoing debates within the UK over its role in the world and how it carves its role in the complex geopolitics of East Asia.

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