October 4, 2023


Advocacy. Mediation. Success.

How COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine could change EU-Taiwan relations

By Janka Oertel

The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have adjusted how the EU thinks about the potential of its relations with China — with considerable likely for shifts in coverage in the direction of Taiwan.

The hottest (digital) EU-China summit on April 1, in which European leaders needed to concentration on the war in Ukraine, was an astonishing demonstration of the recent situation. There was no dialogue, and no new or constructive provides from Beijing were on the table. Every single get together presented their positions with limited resonance on the other facet of the screen. Just months later, European allies also acknowledged that China’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies” posed a challenge to trans-Atlantic passions and protection in NATO’s new Strategic Notion.

A new “crisis manner China”

Relations in between Europe and China had been slowly but surely deteriorating for yrs owing to a range of motives, ranging from Beijing’s financial insurance policies — including its industry distorting practices, industrial procedures, and the world-wide financial investment push hard European competitiveness — to President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian advance in Hong Kong and enormous human rights violations in Xinjiang.

But earlier, the Chinese management experienced either been neutral or even supportive when Europe confronted a crisis: With Russia’s 2008 war versus Ga and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Beijing stayed on the sidelines. All through the world-wide money crisis in 2008 and the subsequent European sovereign financial debt crisis, Beijing acted as a stabilizer for global markets and even as a supporter of troubled European economies.

This was the edition of “crisis mode China” that Europeans grew accustomed to. And hence, in spite of escalating issues in the bilateral romantic relationship, Beijing’s assertiveness at home and overseas all through the pandemic — from zero-COVID to mask diplomacy — took Europeans by surprise.

This alone, having said that, would possible not have been sufficient to instigate a essential reassessment of China’s priorities. Even with the February 4 joint Sino-Russian declaration, in the early times of the war in Ukraine lots of EU member states assumed that Beijing would participate in a constructive purpose and would have each desire to do almost everything in its may possibly to cease the bloodshed promptly. The idea that the Chinese leadership would position political in excess of financial issues even now seemed alien to many European policymakers.

Right after the initial several weeks of the war experienced handed and China showed no indicator of modifying its rhetoric, doubling down on the narrative that Russia was defending itself against NATO’s intense expansionism, and amplifying Moscow’s disinformation in the World-wide South, it turned distinct that China was not heading to appear to Europe’s support. It was also not going to cease Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, or even quit propping up his regime. Beijing’s diplomatic assistance and noticeably escalating imports are strengthening Putin’s economic skill to continue his battle.

The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have set Taiwan on the map in Europe

The European Union is Taiwan’s most significant foreign trader. Much more than 25% of the island’s foreign direct investments came from EU nations around the world in 2020 and 15 of 27 EU member states have agent workplaces in Taipei. The quantity of bilateral trade has risen to extra than 68 billion pounds in 2021. Though this is a great deal a lot less trade than with China, pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, as perfectly as worldwide semiconductor shortages, have underscored the require for larger resilience and for like-minded, reputable companions.

Europe’s posture on Taiwan has shifted during the pandemic. Taiwan’s COVID-19 response was not only impressive in its success, but in its help for Europe, together with the supply of protective equipment. This starkly contrasted to Beijing’s divisive agenda, with its overtly hostile rhetoric making an attempt to underscore the incapacity of democratic governments to take care of the pandemic.

The realization of Taiwan’s central purpose in semiconductor provides, coupled with acknowledging the heightened geopolitical tensions and weaponization of trade, have manufactured European governments treatment far more about developments in the Taiwan Strait. Policymakers ended up setting up to take China’s continuous incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense and Identification Zone and substantial armed service establish-up more seriously, even just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The European Parliament’s Oct 2021 recommendation to the EU Commission’s Higher Representative for International Affairs and Security Plan on relations with Taiwan demonstrates this: It stated not only that Taiwan and the EU are like-minded associates that share typical values, but also lauded Taipei’s efforts all through the pandemic as a “tangible illustration of Taiwan behaving as a partner, and evidence that it should be dealt with as these kinds of.” Barely a thirty day period later, the to start with European Parliament delegation visited Taipei.

It was not only the parliament that was starting to be far more vocal. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is at the forefront of taking care of the difficulties that China’s industry distorting tactics pose to European industry, said that China’s steps and more and more intense conduct in the Taiwan Strait “may have a direct effect on European safety and prosperity.”

Just one EU member point out made a decision to acquire even bolder motion. In November very last yr, Lithuania made a decision to open up a agent place of work underneath the identify of Taiwan (and not Taipei, the normal variety utilized throughout Europe for Taiwan’s quasi-embassies). The result was a substantial fallout among Vilnius and Beijing that not only led to a diplomatic relations freeze, but also the virtual halt of financial action among the two countries. It quickly embroiled the entire EU as Beijing wielded the total drive of its market against all all those European (and U.S.) companies who have Lithuanian goods in their supply chain or make in the Baltic state for export to China.

EU member states have been at first hesitant to guidance Lithuania, but Beijing’s attempt to coerce intercontinental corporations into modifying their offer chains was seen as an assault on the European one market. This elicited a robust response, which incorporated speeding up the recommendation to member states to build an anti-coercion instrument to protect Europe towards Beijing’s weaponization of trade relations. But although Taiwan pledged aid to the Lithuanian economic system, the destruction to Lithuania as an expenditure spot was serious. Early in 2022, domestic aid in Lithuania for the govt&#8217s far more forward-leaning and values-pushed method was coming below hefty scrutiny at dwelling. Then Russia invaded Ukraine.

The bold go by Vilnius now appears to be substantially much more strategic. Lithuania experienced extended warned other EU users about Russia’s intentions and was very clear that its place vis-à-vis China and Taiwan was coming from the identical principled solution, even if it pushed other Europeans out of their consolation zone. The link among Ukraine and what may well happen in East Asia was even far more right away drawn — anything Europe has generally resisted entertaining as a serious probability in its policy planning.

What does this mean for EU-Taiwan relations?

Taiwan is not Ukraine. Europe’s reaction to any probable Taiwan contingency would count on the conditions. Unilateral action by Beijing to alter the status quo and military services aggression would attract a potent reaction: The arsenal of economic sanctions at the moment on screen vis-à-vis Russia could be aimed at China, but Beijing would probable try out to make the determination much less clear-cut, likely framing its individual steps as a response to a provocation or incident.

The craze toward enhancing EU-Taiwan relations under the amount of complicated the “One China” policy encourages Europeans to be engaged in circumstance of conflict. This would increase the deterrent effect of any trans-Atlantic reaction and increase the value for China to violently alter the position quo.

The most lively political participant will possible stay the European Parliament. The parliament even proposed that the EU should really look at “[changing] the title of the European Financial and Trade Workplace in Taiwan to ‘European Union Office environment in Taiwan’ in buy to mirror the wide scope of ties.”

But the European Fee has also presently improved its strategy: Just after the invasion of Ukraine, the frequent trade dialogue with Taipei was held in an upgraded sort in early June 2022. Europe is eager for Taiwan’s aid with its semiconductor crunch and would like to appeal to Taiwan’s foremost organizations to established up store within the EU. Taiwan’s willingness to assistance the Western sanctions bundle vis-à-vis Russia has additional boosted belief. An EU-Taiwan bilateral financial investment settlement, which Taiwan has proposed, however stays a a lot more distant possibility.

Germany is the European state most dependent economically upon China. Putting Taiwan on the map in Berlin is the one most essential issue to swing Europe’s place sustainably. Germany’s continue to relatively new Social Democrat-Green-Liberal govt is at this time devising its new China strategy, and its position vis-à-vis Taiwan will be one particular of the most exciting and hotly debated aspects.

Berlin is not probable to be as daring as Vilnius, but it much too has modified its tone. For the 1st time, the German government’s coalition treaty is explicit about the have to have to keep the standing quo in the Taiwan Strait and assistance Taiwan’s participation in worldwide organizations. A doc of this sort would normally reference China only as a business chance and in no way even mention Taiwan. Germany could budge the needle and set political pounds guiding Europe’s increased engagement. For Taipei this usually means that past Washington and Brussels, Berlin demands to be the aim of diplomatic awareness.