Taiwan's deputy foreign minister Harry Tseng, right, greets French Senator Alain Richard, second left, leading a delegation arriving at the Taoyuan international airport in Taoyuan on October 6, 2021. Photo: AFP / CNA

A delegation of French senators led by a former defense minister arrived on Wednesday in Taiwan, where they will hold talks with President Tsai Ing-wen, despite strong protests from China.

Beijing opposes Taipei having any official diplomatic exchanges and has aggressively tried to dissuade politicians from visiting in recent years.

The Chinese embassy warned that the visit would damage the interests of China, Chinese-French relations and “the image of France” in recent comments on its website.

France’s foreign ministry has dismissed China’s protests, saying the senators were free to make their own decisions about their travel plans.

The delegation will meet Tsai on Thursday before wrapping up their trip on Sunday, according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry.

“The senators are making the visit despite threats from the Chinese ambassador to France, showing their steadfast commitment to the spirit of freedom and democracy,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Chinese ambassador wrote to the leader of the French delegation, Alain Richard, in February, saying his visit would “clearly violate the one-China principle and send the wrong signal to pro-independence forces in Taiwan.”

Richard chairs the French senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group and previously visited the island in 2015 and 2018.

Beijing has ramped up pressure on self-ruled democratic Taiwan since Tsai came to power in 2016, as she views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of its territory.