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Europe takes a stronger stand on Taiwan to counter China’s aggressiveness

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China’s increasingly aggressive posture in East Asia has begun to move Europeans closer to Taiwan. Britain remains China’s most outspoken critic among European states and has demonstrated its concern about Beijing’s aggressiveness in a variety of ways. It has deployed the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, carrying U.S. Marine Corps F-35 combat aircraft, to the South China Sea. It is a partner in the new AUKUS arrangement that, among other things, will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. And Britain’s business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, this week announced a nuclear energy financing bill that is meant to attract investors while shutting China out of Britain’s nuclear projects. 

Britain is not alone, however. The European Union, as well as individual European states, also have begun to contemplate steps to not only reduce economic ties with Beijing but to strengthen those with Taipei. In mid-September, the EU Commission and Josep Borrell, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, jointly issued a “strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” asserting that “the display of force and increasing tensions in regional hot spots such as in the South and East China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity. There is also an increase in hybrid threats, including on cyber security.” 

The document, addressed to both the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, also called for the Union to explore “ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific while boosting Indo-Pacific partners’ capacity to ensure maritime security.” Finally, in what was certain to infuriate Beijing, the document added that the EU would “also pursue its deep trade and investment relationships with partners with whom it does not have trade and investment agreements, such as Taiwan.” 

The European Parliament this week took an even stronger line on relations with Taiwan. It issued a resolution recommending stronger political, and not merely economic, ties with the island republic. Terming Taiwan a “key” Indo-Pacific partner, the resolution called for renaming the “European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan to the “European Union Office in Taiwan,” thereby not only specifically connoting the EU’s presence on the island but also expanding the office’s writ to include political relations. While the resolution is non-binding, it does reflect a growing sense that Europe cannot ignore the threat that authoritarian China poses to a vibrant fellow democracy.

For its part, Taipei long has sought an economic agreement with the European Union and its individual members. To that end, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has been visiting Slovakia and the Czech Republic, promoting closer trade relations. In addition, Kung Ming-hsin, head of Taiwan’s National Development Council, has visited both countries, as well as Lithuania, with the same economic objectives. 

It is critical that the Biden administration do all it can to underpin the momentum of Europe’s gradual shift away from Beijing and toward Taipei. President Biden has sent shudders through the Chinese leadership by restating his determination that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion. His statements may not reflect the actual text of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act; nevertheless, coupled with the revelation that a small number of American Marines have been training Taiwanese units for the past year, Biden’s words signal a hardening of America’s position regarding the defense of the island. 

Beyond his statements however, Biden’s administration should actively ramp up economic cooperation with the EU. Doing so would assist Europe’s efforts to liberate itself from China’s economic penetration. At the same time, it would demonstrate that Washington is not alone in its apprehensiveness about China’s behavior and that Beijing’s aggressive posture vis-à-vis Taiwan, Australia and the states bordering the South and East China seas is both counterproductive economically and seriously damaging to its coveted political standing in the international community.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

Tags AUKUS China European Union Joe Biden Taiwan

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