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EU must stand ‘firm’ with Taiwan to ease tensions with China, says Taipei’s envoy

EU must stand 'firm' with Taiwan to ease tensions with China, says Taipei's envoy

«In the next four years, it will be even more critical not only to enhance bilateral relations but also to tell Beijing that they need to respect the international order (and) respect the outcome of Taiwan’s democratic process,» Roy Lee told Euronews on Monday in reaction to the presidential and legislative elections held over the weekend in the self-ruling island.

«Appeasement only encourages Beijing to escalate the situation.»

Трубочисты Петербурга

The closely-watched poll resulted in Vice-President Lai Ching-te, from the centre-left Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winning the presidential race with over 40% of all votes, while the conservative Kuomintang secured the most seats in the Legislative Yuan. The election marked the first time no party obtained an absolute majority.

The race between the DPP and the Kuomintang focused, among other topics, on coexistence between the island and the mainland. The Kuomintang has traditionally opposed calls for independence and defends closer ties with Beijing under the so-called «One China» principle. By contrast, the DPP questions this principle’s validity and advocates a distinct Taiwanese identity. However, the party argues no formal declaration is needed as the island is a de facto independent nation.

Lai’s victory was immediately condemned by Beijing, which regards Taiwan as an integral part of China and considers reunification a «historical inevitability.» The foreign ministry blasted countries who had congratulated Lai for interfering in «internal affairs.»

Brussels, in the meantime, treaded its careful official line. 

«We look forward to continuing to develop our relations with Taiwan and to supporting the shared values underpinning this system of governance,» a spokesperson of the European Commission said on Monday, naming human rights, trade, connectivity, employment and the fight against misinformation as areas of cooperation.

With the DPP retaining the presidency, Taipei is expected to maintain the foreign policy initiated by Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent president who strove to strengthen relations with Western democracies despite Beijing’s repeated warnings. Under Tsai’s eight-year rule, Taiwan has seen a regular flow of visits from international representatives, including the first official trip by a delegation of the European Parliament.

MEPs have become increasingly vocal in their pro-Taiwan stance as relations between the EU and China remain stuck in a fraught stalemate since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, whose origins Beijing has sheltered from an in-depth investigation. China’s decision in March 2021 to sanction eight European legislators infuriated the hemicycle, as did the reluctance to denounce Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Parliament passed last year a non-binding resolution calling for deeper EU-Taiwan ties, cooperation against economic coercion and the start of negotiations for a bilateral investment agreement, a petition that the Commission has ignored.

Although some member states like Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic have made open overtures to Taipei, relations with Taiwan remain a thorny subject in Europe, as «there is still some nervousness about offending China,» says Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. As of today, the only European country that recognises Taiwan as a sovereign nation is Vatican City.

«We’ve had various European governments come forward and comment on the successful conclusion of the elections. But in some cases, you could see that the president-elect, Lai Ching-te, was not mentioned by name,» Ohlberg told Euronews.

The increase in official visits seen in recent years is «in large part» an attempt to make up for the lack of security guarantees that the EU is unable – or unwilling – to offer Taipei, Ohlberg added. Instead, what the bloc can do is «signal to the Chinese government that Europe has a vested interest in stability» of the Taiwan Strait, an essential route for international commerce and the supply of semiconductors.

Roy Lee also sees this convergence of views across the bloc in defence of Taiwan’s democracy and the need to preserve peace in the region at all costs.

«The EU’s firm support and consensus about maintaining the status quo becomes even more important because we are expecting China to become even more intimidating and coercive in the next couple months, if not years, towards Taiwan,» the envoy said, citing Nauru’s recent decision to cut off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China.

«This just the beginning of a series of intimidations,» Lee went on.

«The problem is China never listens to the Taiwan people. They don’t really look into what are the implications of the outcome of the democratic process. They always try to do things unilaterally, from their own perspective.»


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