Europe Is Making — Gingerly — an Opening to the Republic of China on Taiwan
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
BERLIN — Could Europe be in the midst of an opening to the Republic of China on Taiwan? That’s the question in the wake of two events that are no doubt being watched with alarm in the chancelleries of Communist China.
Earlier this week, a seven-member delegation from the European Parliament landed at the Republic of China capital of Taipei, marking the first official visit by European lawmakers to the embattled Asian democracy.
During the trip, delegation head, Raphaël Glucksmann, pointed to the shared experience of Europe and Taiwan. “We in Europe are also confronted with interference from authoritarian regimes,” adding that Taiwan demonstrates that “democracy can flourish and that authoritarian regimes are not the future.”
The visit of the European Parliament members comes on the heels of a European tour by the Republic of China’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu. His trip involved well-publicized visits to Slovakia and the Czech Republic and a meeting in Brussels, seat of the European Commission.
The Brussels visit provoked a furious response from the government of Communist China. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Beijing, Wang Wenbin, maintained that China is firmly opposed to “all forms of official interactions between the Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic ties with China.” He warned that Communist China “will take legitimate and necessary measures to firmly uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In a further sign of souring EU-Chinese relations, Lithuania withdrew from Group of 17+1 earlier this year. The group is a Communist Chinese-led investment initiative aimed at bolstering business and trade ties with 17 Central- and Eastern European countries.
Lithuania’s vice-minister of foreign affairs, Arnoldas Pranckevičius, cited the initiative’s divisive nature and a dearth of economic benefits over the past decade as the impetus for his country’s withdrawal and called on Europe to present a united front to more credibly engage with Beijing.
Central and Eastern Europe depend on Chinese consumers and Chinese imports far less than Europe’s leading economies — France and Germany in particular — leaving them less vulnerable to a backlash from the communist government for expressing solidarity with the democracy on Taiwan. Europe’s center and east also remember living during the Cold War under the thumb of an ambitious communist power.
Taiwan announced plans this summer to open a de-facto diplomatic office in the Lithuanian capital of Vilna. While the Republic of China, as the government on Taiwan is officially called, shares official diplomatic relations with about 15 countries, it shares non-diplomatic ties with many more.
The island democracy typically calls its unofficial missions Taipei trade or economic offices to avoid explicit self-reference.
Its newest mission, though, it uses no dodge, but instead calls itself the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania. The Communist Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Lithuania not to “move further down the wrong path.” It recalled its ambassador to Lithuania, while expelling the Lithuanian ambassador in Beijing.
In addition to diplomatic expulsions, Communist China placed sanctions on members of the European Parliaments, scholars, and politicians — including the Parliament’s entire Human Rights subcommittee — in retaliation for EU sanctions on Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority.
The sanction spat scuttled any near-term hopes for an EU-China investment agreement, though one had been struck in principle and championed by Germany’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her center-right-led, largely pro-business governing coalition. The winners of the recent federal election in Germany, the Greens, pro-business Liberal Democrats, and center-left Social Democrats, agree on deepening ties with the Republic of China, another blow to the investment deal.
The three parties are currently engaged in coalition negotiations. Maintaining a pro-Taiwan stance would be a significant repudiation of the previous government’s strategy of Wandel durch Handel, or Change Through Trade.
Although the European Union’s Central and Eastern European countries have led the continent on the Taiwan issue, there are indications that support for Taipei is gaining traction throughout the 27-member bloc. Last month the European Parliament resoundingly adopted a resolution calling for deeper ties with Taiwan, highlighting Europe and Taiwan’s shared values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. It recommended laying the groundwork for an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement.
Notably, the resolution’s text recognized Europe’s responsibility to strongly advocate for Taiwanese participation in international bodies despite determined Communist Chinese resistance to recognition of the Republic of China on the international stage. The resolution’s vote tally was 580 in favor, 26 against.
Mr. Larson is a journalist based in Berlin. Image: The foreign minister of the Republic of China, Joseph Wu, shares a beer with the president of the Czech senate, Milos Vystrcil, during the foreign minister’s tour of Europe. Detail of a photo by the Republic of China ministry of foreign affairs.