Albanese says trip by federal MPs to Taiwan is ‘not a government visit’

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has played down a visit to Taiwan by a bipartisan delegation of Australian politicians, amid concern the trip will anger China after relations between the two countries have improved in recent months.

In the first visit by Australian MPs since 2019, the six federal MPs from the Coalition and Labor will fly out of Australia for Taiwan on Sunday.

Queensland Liberal National MP Scott Buchholz is among the MPs going on the trip.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The group will include former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, Labor MPs Meryl Swanson and Libby Coker, Liberal National Party members Scott Buchholz and Terry Young, and Liberal Gavin Pearce.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and any attempt at diplomatic engagement with the island usually infuriates Beijing. A trip in August by US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, resulted in threats of retaliation by Beijing and the Chinese military conducting live fire exercises around Taiwan.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Kirribilli House in Sydney on Friday.Credit:Nick Moir

The trip by the Australian MPs is not expected to be put in the same class as Pelosi’s visit given that she was second in line to the presidency under the American system.

Albanese on Saturday morning said there have been visits by backbench MPs for a “long period of time”.

“This is another one,” Albanese said at a press conference in South Australia.

“It isn’t a government visit, there remains a bipartisan position when it comes to China and when it comes to support for the status quo on Taiwan.”

Asked why the Australian MPs were going, Albanese said: “I have no idea, I’m not going. You should ask them.”

While Australian officials engage with the Taiwan government at an informal level, Canberra has repeatedly baulked at coming to formal agreements with Taipei such as a free trade deal.

The move comes after Albanese last month met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a significant breakthrough in relations after years of acrimony between the two nations saw China impose more than $20 billion of trade strikes on Australia.

It is unclear how China will react to the visit, first reported by The Australian, after the diplomatic breakthroughs in recent months.

Unlike the former Coalition government, the Albanese government has been able to engage directly at a ministerial level with Beijing. But there are no signs that the billions of dollars in trade sanctions have been formally lifted, while Chinese authorities are still holding Australian citizens Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun in prison.

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