Taiwan's push for independence is a contentious and delicate issue for China that refuses to go away.
The island claimed by China has made headlines in Australia this week after former prime minister Tony Abbott's visit – a trip Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed was in a private capacity.
In a move that will undoubtedly enrage China during a period of badly-strained relations with Australia, Mr Abbott met with President Tsai Ing-wen before delivering a keynote speech at the Yushan Forum.
And Mr Abbott did not hold back when it came to China, accusing Beijing of being a bully, referring to its move to "weaponise trade" against Australia and demanding unreasonable concessions.
"The trigger for all this was politely seeking an impartial inquiry into the origins of the virus. So this year I'm here having concluded that China's belligerence is all self-generated," he said.
Absolute privilege to have @HonTonyAbbott with us in #Taiwan. It's great to break bread with the former prime minister of #Australia. He's a fair dinkum free trader & bold backer of our #CPTPP bid. Thanks for the support & all the best for the @yushanforum keynote, my friend! JW pic.twitter.com/TP3NUcR7J3
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) October 6, 2021
Mr Abbott said it was vital Taiwan was supported by other democracies across the world.
Yet there was no mention of Mr Abbott's visit in China's foreign ministry's daily press conference, returning for the first time since a week-long break for the country's 'Golden Week' holiday.
The one word that triggered Chinese official
However Taiwan remained a hot topic and it was comments, and one word in particular, from French senator Alain Richard, who too had visited Taiwan this week, that angered spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
Also meeting Ms Tsai, Mr Richard spoke of Taiwan's "very good job in representing your country" in France.
China routinely stresses Taiwan is not a country and is an island province, officially named Republic of China, as part of the 'One-China policy'.
Yet Taiwan has its own democratic freedoms and there is a growing desire inside Taiwan for it to be recognised as an independent state altogether.
It's an honor to accompany @iingwen in decorating Alain Richard, chair of the French @Senat International Relations Committee. Mr. Richard, your contributions to #Taiwan's ties with #France are recognized! JW pic.twitter.com/Ck0H4M9MKp
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) October 7, 2021
China has warned it will take the necessary steps to ensure Taiwan remains as part of China, prompting concern in the West and increasing global support for Taiwan.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton noted earlier in the year tensions were rising in the Indo-Pacific and the possibility of military conflict was on the rise.
Mr Zhao said Mr Richard's remarks were a "flagrant violation of the universal consensus of the international community, including France".
"People like Richard either lack the most basic respect and understanding of international relations norms, or they kidnap state-to-state relations based on personal selfishness.
"China strongly condemns and firmly opposes this."
Senator explains remarks: 'Not political'
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Richard, who heads the French Senate's Taiwan Friendship Group and is a former defence minister, acknowledged that what to call Taiwan's representative offices was a tricky issue.
"It's a fine diplomatic issue, but what is striking to me is that the name of this island and this country is Taiwan," he said, speaking in English.
"So there is no big point in trying to, you know, prevent this country to use its name."
He added in French that the word "country", in French, means first of all a geographical space, not a political one.
The remarks come at a time of growing international concern over rising tension between Taiwan and China after almost 150 Chinese aircraft flew into the former's air defence zone over a four-day period since last Friday.
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