China protests over MKs' Taiwan visit

Envoy learned about trip from 'Post', says it infringes 'One China' policy.

Yecimovitch, amit, yatom (photo credit: Knesset)
Yecimovitch, amit, yatom
(photo credit: Knesset)
China has lodged a strong protest with Israel following this week's trip to Taiwan by a Knesset delegation that its ambassador learned about in The Jerusalem Post. Ambassador Chen Yonglong read that five MKs were visiting Taiwan in a report in Sunday's Post. He conveyed his government's protest in a meeting on Sunday in Tel Aviv with MK Danny Yatom (Labor), who heads the Israel-China Friendship Association, and on Monday with Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem. Chen told the Post on Thursday that the meetings had been "very good" and that Israel and China saw eye to eye on the matter. "I met Danny Yatom and Yossi Gal [the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for economic affairs]. They promised to hold to the 'One China' policy," he said. "These MKs sent a wrong message. We are strongly opposed [to their Taiwan trip]." Although Israel follows a One China policy, which views Taiwan as part of China, it has maintained strong economic ties with Taipei since exchanging trade offices in 1993. Bilateral trade is expected to exceed $1.2 billion this year, officials on both sides say. Yatom told the Post that the Chinese envoy had been "enraged" over the MKs' visit, which he said harmed China's relations with Israel, and he demanded that they hold only low-level meetings in Taiwan. "He asked to see me immediately after he read in The Jerusalem Post that a parliamentary delegation was visiting Taiwan," Yatom said. "He wanted to meet the Speaker of the Knesset [Dalia Itzik], but she was abroad, so he came to my office in Tel Aviv. I calmed him down. I told him that it was not an official visit. I said it was financed by the Taiwanese government, and Israel is a free country which doesn't prevent MKs from making such trips." The Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing had presented an official protest over the MKs' visit to Taiwan. "The Chinese ambassador did in fact make a complaint," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "And our answer was the following: The Israeli government adheres strictly to a One China policy and we have no official contacts with Taiwan. And on this level, Israel is very strict, in accordance with our good relations with China." Regev said Foreign Ministry officials explained to the ambassador that "in the Israeli form of government, the legislative branch is completely separate from the executive branch." "We cannot tell members of Knesset where they can and cannot go," he said. The delegation, which apparently hoped to keep the trip secret, comprised MKs David Tal (Kadima), Avraham Michaeli, Yitzhak Vaknin and David Azulay (Shas) and Nissan Slomiansky (National Union-National Religious Party). They arrived in Taipei on Sunday, held talks with trade and medical officials and are scheduled to return to Israel on Friday. They declined requests to talk to the press. It is believed to be the highest-level Israeli political delegation ever to visit Taiwan. The Taipei Times reported that former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had planned to visit Taiwan in 2001 to promote trade ties, but canceled the trip without giving a reason. China has asked all its allies to adopt a One China policy, which bars them from establishing diplomatic relations. However, 24 states, including South Africa and the Vatican, have defied China by establishing ties with Taipei. At the UN on Tuesday, as the 61st General Assembly session officially kicked off, China and its allies blocked Taiwan's 14th bid for UN membership. The General Assembly's General Committee decided not to put the Taiwan issue on the agenda, turning down a request from 16 of the island's diplomatic friends - mostly small nations in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in response that the General Committee had been too quick in dismissing the island's application. The committee "was unfair to its members by not giving them enough time to discuss Taiwan's case," said ministry spokesman Michel Lu. China says self-ruled Taiwan has no right to join international organizations because Beijing, not Taipei, is responsible for the island's foreign relations. The two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949, but China continues to claim sovereignty over Taiwan. Taiwan, which held China's seat in the UN until 1971, says the world body is incomplete without it. "We are the only country in the world today that is not recognized internationally," Lu said. AP contributed to this report.