A European Parliament delegation arrived in Taiwan Wednesday, part of an effort to build closer ties with the island despite warnings from China.
The visit comes during high tensions between Taiwan and China, which claims the self-ruled island and has vowed to take it one day, by force if needed.
Beijing has intensified efforts in recent years to isolate Taiwan on the international stage, bristling at any attempts to treat the island as an independent state.
The seven-member group led by French MEP Raphael Glucksmann will meet with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and other top officials during the three-day trip, said the island’s foreign ministry, describing it as the first “official” delegation from the European parliament.
“We look forward to fruitful discussions on the defence of democracy, freedom, rule of law, and respect for human rights with our like-minded European partners,” it added in a statement.
Glucksmann, a vocal China critic, was among five lawmakers sanctioned by Beijing in March.
“Neither the threats nor the sanctions will impress me. Never. And I will continue, always, to stand with those who fight for democracy and human rights. So here it is: I’m going to Taiwan,” he tweeted.
The Chinese mission in Brussels had warned earlier that a Taiwan visit by MEPs would “damage China’s core interest and undermine the healthy development of China-EU relations.”
Beijing reacted with anger when a group of French senators travelled to Taiwan last month, and to Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu’s recent visits to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
China-Taiwan ties have plunged since the election of Tsai as president in 2016, as she views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of “One China.”
And after record incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone, the island’s defense minister said military tensions with Beijing were at their highest in four decades.