New Report | The “Rebirth” of Europe-Taiwan Relations: Explaining Europe’s New Balance Between Beijing and Taipei
NEW YORK; January 10, 2024 — A new report entitled “The ‘Rebirth’ of Europe-Taiwan Relations: Explaining Europe’s New Balance Between Beijing and Taipei,” authored by Philippe Le Corre, Senior Fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis, examines recent trends in EU views of Taiwan and cross-strait relations. The paper considers how the island’s future has turned into a new diplomatic issue for the EU, its member states, and their close neighbor — the United Kingdom.
Diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and adherence to a ‘one-China policy' have historically prevented any official or diplomatic contact between Taiwan and European states. However, “over the past five decades, European countries have built multiple nonofficial relations with Taiwan,” writes Le Corre.
“The European Parliament increasingly became the EU’s standard-bearer against rising PRC influence and concurrently as a relatively “Taiwan-friendly” institution through individual parliamentary contacts,” writes Le Corre. “As early as 1996, the European Parliament condemned the PRC for conducting military exercises in the Taiwan Strait ahead of the first direct presidential election on the island while underlining the need for the PRC to renounce the use of military force against Taiwan.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan and the subsequent live-fire military drills launched by China around the island prompted a renewed focus and concern over Taiwan.
“Policy-makers in Brussels as well as in most European capitals have begun to acknowledge that geopolitical tensions between Beijing, Taipei and Washington may spillover and affect U.S.-European affairs more than previously thought,” writes Le Corre. “While a one China policy remains the foundation for relations between European countries and the PRC, in several European capitals it is becoming increasingly clear that there will be consequences if China chooses to forcibly unify Taiwan.”
Le Corre notes that visits by members of the European Parliament and national parliamentarians to Taipei in recent years have illustrated increasing solidarity between the EU and Taiwan. To many European countries, a potential war in the Taiwan Strait would not only disrupt trade with East Asia, it could also cut global production chains, reshape Asia’s security architecture, and bring severe consequences to the EU economy.
According to the report, Jorge Toledo Albiñana, the EU’s ambassador to Beijing, has said: “In the event of a military invasion, we have made it very clear that the EU, with the United States and its allies, will impose similar or even greater measures than we have now taken against Russia.” While the current British conservative government has remained more cautious, the report references former Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s warnings to China of the “global impact from any conflict over Taiwan.”
Le Corre notes five key factors that have contributed to the EU and United Kingdom’s changing relationship with Taiwan:
- Taiwan’s Democratic Appeal vs. China’s “Wolf Warrior” Diplomacy: Skilled diplomacy and reassuring media appearances from Taiwanese officials have enhanced Taiwan’s appeal in Europe, juxtaposed to China’s more aggressive foreign policy rhetoric.
- Successful Public Health Policies: Covid-19 helped the Taiwanese government demonstrate its public management skills. During 2020, Taiwan shipped personal protection equipment, such as masks, to several European countries, such as Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic
- Promotion of the Electronics Industry: Electronics account for a third of Taiwanese exports globally, and Europe recognizes the weight of Taiwan’s role in the global semiconductor industry
- Taiwan’s Democratization: While the number of governments maintaining official diplomatic relations with Taipei has fallen, unofficial forms of diplomatic ties have increased. For example, in January 2020, Prague established a sister city agreement with Taipei
- Improving Public Perceptions: European favorability ratings towards Taiwan are much stronger when compared to European views toward China, which is facing increasing scrutiny for human rights violations in Xinjiang and Tibet, crackdowns against civil liberties, and PRC disinformation campaigns during Covid-19
“Although a great geographic distance divides them, Europe and Taiwan share similar goals when it comes to democracy and human rights,” concludes Le Corre. However, “Remoteness, different strategic interests, and competing economic and diplomatic obligations vis-à-vis China and the United States will continue to impact the Europe-Taiwan relationship in the near future. In this new year marked by multiple elections – including in the EU and the United States – Europeans should tread a fine line between their interests and values.”