Taiwan delegation to visit Slovakia, Czech Republic and Lithuania

Taipei (AFP) –


A Taiwanese delegation of government officials and business people will visit Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, officials said Tuesday, defying Beijing's opposition to any diplomatic ties with Taipei.

The 65-member group will visit the three countries between October 20 and 30 to promote trade ties and investment, said Chen Li-kuo, chief of the Taiwanese foreign ministry's European affairs department.

"We have continued to deepen our relations with Central and Eastern European countries... in a demonstration of solidarity and friendship among international democratic partners," he told a virtual press briefing.

All three countries gave coronavirus vaccines to Taiwan and have shown signs of wanting closer relations with the island, even if that angers China.

Lithuania has led the way.

Taiwan announced in July it was setting up a representative office in Vilnius under the name "Taiwan" instead of "Taipei" -- a significant diplomatic departure from standard practice.

Beijing withdrew its ambassador to Lithuania and demanded Vilnius do the same, which it eventually did.

"Taiwan and Lithuania's determination to expand ties has remained unchanged despite external threats," Chen said, adding that preparations for the Taiwan office were going "smoothly".

Only 15 countries officially recognise Taipei over Beijing, which claims the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory and has vowed to one day re-take it -- by force if needed.

Beijing tries to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage and baulks at any official use of the word "Taiwan" lest it lend the island a sense of international legitimacy.

Earlier this year Lithuania announced it was quitting China's 17+1 cooperation forum with central and eastern European states, calling it "divisive".

Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech and Poland all recently pledged to donate coronavirus vaccines to Taiwan.

Slovakia is also considering sending a delegation to Taiwan and Chen said the two sides will discuss the matter during next month's visit.

Politicians in the Czech Republic have also pushed for closer ties with Taiwan.

In 2019, Prague cancelled a sister-city agreement with Beijing and signed one with Taipei, while a high-profile visit to Taiwan last year by Czech senate leader Milos Vystrcil infuriated China.

Beijing has ramped up the pressure and poached seven of Taiwan's diplomatic allies since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen as she views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of "one China".

Last year, Taiwan and Somaliland opened reciprocal representative offices using the title "Taiwan" for the first time, but unlike Lithuania, Somaliland has no diplomatic ties with Beijing.

It is also not recognised as a sovereign state by most nations.