Focus on Covid-19, France tells China after Taiwan arms deal threat

A French-made Lafayette-class frigate (centre) takes part in military exercises off the coast of Taiwan on September 17, 2014.
A French-made Lafayette-class frigate (centre) takes part in military exercises off the coast of Taiwan on September 17, 2014. © Pichi Chuang, REUTERS

France dismissed Chinese warnings on Wednesday about selling arms to Taiwan, saying it was implementing existing deals and that China and other countries should focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic instead.


China has warned France not to “harm Sino-French relations” by selling arms to neighbouring Taiwan, which is planning to buy weapons as part of an upgrade to a French-made warship fleet bought 30 years ago.

China says that Taiwan is part of "one China" and that this principle must be accepted by any country with which it has diplomatic relations. Arms sales to Taiwan are always highly sensitive and regularly prompt a strong reaction from Beijing.

Taiwan is mostly equipped with US-made weapons, but in 1991 France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates, to China's anger. France also sold Taiwan 60 Mirage fighter jets in 1992.

Taiwan last month said it was seeking to buy equipment from France to upgrade the ships' missile interference system.

'Serious concern'

Speaking in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China resolutely opposed any arms sales to Taiwan.

"We have already expressed our serious concern to France," he told a daily news briefing.

"We again urge the French side to abide by the one China principle and withdraw the arms sale plan to Taiwan to avoid harming Sino-French relations," the spokesman added.

France rejected the Chinese criticism, saying it was merely fulfilling contractual obligations and that everyone's focus at this time should be on fighting the coronavirus epidemic.

The French foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying it followed a "one China" policy as agreed with Beijing in 1994 and continued to urge both sides to hold dialogue.

"France strictly respects the contractual agreements that it formed with Taiwan and nothing has changed in its position since 1994," the statement said.

"Faced with the Covid-19 crisis, all our attention and all our efforts should be focused on the fight against the pandemic," the ministry added.

Pandemic spat

The timing of the dispute is awkward for Paris, which has ordered millions of face masks from China amid a critical shortage of protective gear to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Last month, the French foreign ministry summoned China's ambassador over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing's response to the pandemic and criticising the West's handling of the outbreak.

China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive and important territorial issue, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.

Taiwan says it needs to upgrade its armed forces to deal with the growing threat from China, which has in recent months stepped up its military drills near the democratic, self-governing island.


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