Taiwan will continue to play its role as a member of the international community and ensure regional peace and stability, President Tsai Ing-wen told a visiting delegation of French senators on Thursday amid escalating tensions with China.
The four senators, led by former Defense Minister Alain Richard, arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday, despite strong objections from China, which views the island as its own territory and is always angered by visits from foreign officials.
The senators’ visit comes after four consecutive days, starting last Friday, of massive missions by the Chinese air force in Taiwan’s air defense zone, movements that Washington and its allies have received with concern.
Speaking to senators in the presidential office, Tsai thanked France for its concern about the situation in the Taiwan Strait and support for its international participation.
“We will continue to fulfill our responsibilities as members of the international community to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We also look forward to making more contributions to the world together with France,” he added.
Richard, head of the Taiwan Friendship Group in the French Senate, was the country’s defense minister from 1997 to 2002 under the presidency of Jacques Chirac. Richard has visited Taiwan twice before, in 2015 and 2018.
Tsai said Taiwan was “very moved.” Richard decided to come, despite what she described as “pressure,” a reference to China.
In March, the Chinese embassy in Paris warned lawmakers not to meet with Taiwanese officials, prompting rejection from the French Foreign Ministry, which said French senators are free to meet whomever they wish when traveling.
Tsai did not directly mention the recent activities of the Chinese air force.
Senators aren’t the only high-level foreign visitors to Taiwan right now.
Later on Thursday, Tsai will meet former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Neither France nor Australia have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, like most countries.
Taiwan has wanted to strengthen its ties with other democracies as China intensifies its pressure campaign, trying to force the island to accept Chinese sovereignty.
The government of Taiwan has denounced China’s movements and says that it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, and that only the people of Taiwan can decide its future.