Slovakia wants to be "an equal partner" to Taiwan, the leader of an official trade delegation to the island said Monday, a sign of growing international support for Taipei having a place on the world stage despite Beijing's protests.
China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as its territory, to be retaken one day by force if necessary, and has stepped up efforts to diplomatically isolate it.
But Slovakia is among a number of central and eastern European countries that are seeking closer relations with Taiwan in spite of Beijing's anger.
"Slovakia supports Taiwan," said lead delegate Karol Galek, state secretary of the Slovakian ministry of economy.
"Slovakia is ready to become an equal partner, and not only in good but also in the hard times of the current pandemic situation," Galek told the first session of the Taiwanese-Slovak Commission on Economic Cooperation.
"We are very happy that these European countries have a strong interest in enhancing cooperation with Taiwan," economic minister Wang Mei-hua told reporters.
The 43-member Slovakian group is the largest and highest-ranking delegation to visit since the country opened a representative office in Taiwan in 2003, Taipei's foreign ministry said.
The delegates arrived on Sunday for a six-day visit aimed at deepening economic ties.
Made up of officials, business figures and academics, the group arrived in a chartered plane that had the words "Slovak Republic" and the country's national emblem painted on it.
China has become increasingly bellicose towards Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects its stance that the island is part of Chinese territory.
Beijing reacted with anger when Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu visited Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and to the trip of a delegation of Taiwanese officials and businessmen to the two countries and Lithuania in October.
Last month, China condemned the opening of a Taiwanese de facto embassy in Lithuania as an "extremely egregious act" and downgraded diplomatic ties with Vilnius.
Beijing conducted military drills near the Taiwan Strait following a visit by a group of American lawmakers, the second by members of Congress to Taiwan in November.
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