KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – Not too many English-speaking Taiwan observers will be keen readers of the French newspaper Le Monde. But, if they were, they would have spotted an article earlier this week that might have set their pulses racing.
In an op-ed for the paper, a group of nine experts and deputies — including François Godement, a prominent French expert on East Asian international relations, and Nathalie Loiseau, a prominent French member of the European Parliament and former French Minister of European Affairs — called on Europe to take action and preserve democracy in Taiwan, in the face of an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian China.
The article argues the EU has no choice but to review relations given the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) recent behavior on the world stage. It stresses the EU has followed China’s stance on Taiwan for years, but the CCP has now undermined its own position on Taiwan through its brutal annexation of Hong Kong, in violation of international law.
The article concludes that it is time for the EU to revisit its policy on Taiwan in light of China’s recent actions. The clear implication is the EU needs to offer more recognition and support for Taiwan and seek to protect it from Chinese hostility.
It seems highly likely that a huge factor in this article is the treatment the CCP has meted out to the Czech Republic following the visit to Taiwan of a delegation led by the President of the Czech Senate. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) was immediately quoted as saying that a "heavy price" would be paid by the Czechs and the CCP also promised to ban everyone in the delegation from entering China.
Their brazen hostility led to a strong response from the Czechs, with the Mayor of Prague writing a hilariously scathing letter to Wang Yi, which used extremely colorful language to accuse him of breaching diplomatic norms and furthermore demanded an apology. Meanwhile, another Czech senator who was part of the delegation, Lumir Aschenbrenner, applied impeccable logic to the Chinese response to illustrate how flawed China’s claims over Taiwan really are.
There is no doubt that many people in the EU were shocked by China’s arrogant and high-handed reaction and their obvious belief that they could tell elected Czech representatives what they could and couldn’t do.
The truth is that it is not so long ago that they probably could have. Roll back the clock a decade and with Europe coming out of the 2008 financial crisis, it had never been more in need of Chinese financial investment, and the CCP was well aware of this.
But much has changed in the past 10 years and now it is the CCP’s approach to foreign policy that is out of sync with reality. Where once the West would have been willing to look the other way at certain unsavory Chinese actions in places like Tibet, this is now impossible.
The CCP’s repression of Uighur Muslims is a full-on genocide and their annexation of Hong Kong has illustrated in stark terms the utter contempt it has for not just the U.K., with whom it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, but the entire basis of international law in which it is set.
Throw in the CCP's contemptible handling of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and manipulation of the World Health Organization to its own ends, and it is clear to most of the Western world that, far from being economic saviors, the CCP is a major threat to EU countries and the entire free world.
The CCP has either failed to grasp this revised perception, or it simply doesn’t care, believing that it can bully the world into giving it what it wants. Strong leadership from U.S. President Donald Trump on this matter has shown that this is not the case and the likes of the U.K. and now the EU are following his lead.
For Taiwan, this is a massive opportunity and the recent visits of the Czech delegation and the U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar are likely to just be the start. The U.S. is primed and ready for a free trade agreement and even closer military and diplomatic ties.
The U.K. is readying itself for Brexit at the end of the year and securing a free trade agreement with Taiwan is an achievable goal. It has recently signed just such an agreement with Japan and its keenness to be involved in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) shows that it is prioritizing Southeast Asia.
The rift with China over Hong Kong looks likely to grow and this is a platform on which Taiwan can build deeper and more meaningful diplomatic ties. Now there are murmurs from the EU that Taiwanese relations need to be reassessed, while India is also rapidly revising its relations with China following the CCPs incursions onto Indian territory and subsequent military spats between the two countries.
These circumstances are unique. They are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Taiwan and with a strong and popular government in office for the next four years, the opportunity to make huge diplomatic progress is within its grasp.
Taiwan and its government must take this opportunity with both hands and do whatever it takes to improve relations between Taiwan and the U.S., the U.K., the EU, India, and any other country that is willing to listen.
Taiwan must throw resources and its best people at the task and be willing to make compromises where necessary if it believes genuine progress can be achieved. The appointment of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kelly Hsieh (謝武樵) as the new ambassador to London suggests it is doing exactly that.
This opportunity may never arise again and if Tsai and her team can deliver, they will write themselves a very special place in the history of Taiwan.