TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A group of international analysts said the EU and ASEAN should decouple from China and seek closer ties with Taiwan, during an online webinar on Wednesday (July 21).
The virtual dialogue, titled “Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific: Relevance & Geopolitical Implications,” was co-hosted by Taiwan NextGen Foundation and 9DashLine and is the first of a three-part series on transparency and trust in the East Asian nation. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a non-resident Fellow at NextGen and head of associate network at 9DashLine, moderated the event.
European parliamentarian and Christian Democratic Union of Germany member Michael Gahler said the EU notes the “increasing assertiveness” of China and is assessing how far it can deepen relations with Taiwan without infringing its “one-China” policy. He suggested the EU pursue “everything but formal diplomatic recognition” — beginning with more bilateral investment agreements. He added that even though the EU is economically dependent on China, it can still criticize Beijing.
With regard to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) relationship with Taiwan, Gahler said member nations should “join forces for more economic integration.” This would strengthen the organization when facing China and allow Taiwan to forge relations with the organization more easily, as it would no longer have to deal with individual countries.
The European parliamentarian added the EU should encourage ASEAN to take a stronger stance toward China, otherwise Beijing will be able to pick on them “one after another.” Member nations could establish a common set of trade regulations, Gahl said, otherwise China can take advantage of them separately.
Gahl said the EU should seek “all options” when deepening ties with Taiwan without damaging China relations and also encourage partners in Southeast Asia to do likewise, in a united approach. “We need to make it clear that Taiwan matters.”
Taiwan legislator and NextGen advisory board member Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) pointed out the East Asian nation is in a geopolitical hotspot because of China’s threats. He added that Taiwan is glad to see so many like-minded countries are working together to combat Beijing’s aggression.
Lo said he believes Taiwan should be more creative in strengthening relations with the EU, but he said Europe still has many outdated guidelines in place that must be removed before the two sides can grow closer together. The legislator added the EU should consider the “China factor” but must not be conditioned to fear Beijing.
As China is launching a disinformation campaign across Europe, Lo said the EU and Taiwan should address this threat together. He added that China is taking advantage of Taiwan’s democratic institutions to influence local politics and public opinion.
Lo said that since China’s strategy is to “divide and conquer,” Taiwan must keep in mind that “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Dr. Justyna Szczudlik, a China analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said there has been “positive Taiwan hype” in Europe because of the East Asian nation’s emphasis on transparency and progressiveness in recent years. She acknowledged that European nations tend to handle relations with Taiwan through a China-centric lens but stressed they should find a way to be less dependent on the communist country.
Szczudlik said that there has been growing disillusionment across Europe toward China, partly due to Beijing’s disinformation campaign on the continent. She urged European governments to take action against this threat by becoming less dependent on China and strengthening relations with Taiwan.
The analyst added that though it may be more difficult to do so at the EU level, “there is room for maneuvering for individual member states.” The analyst listed the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Slovakia as nations deepening ties with Taiwan.
Szczudlik said Europe should come up with more creative approaches to improve Taiwan relations such as bilateral investment agreements. She added the “one China” policy is not a “god-given principle.”
Meanwhile, Ivy Kwek, research director for the Malaysia-based think tank Research For Social Advancement, said that Southeast Asia has so far been able to remain neutral regarding China’s claims over Taiwan.
She said that Taiwan’s engagements in the region largely focus on “pragmatic cooperation and people-centric support,” which has made its presence in the region “very much welcome.” The research director added that regional countries see Taiwan as a model for COVID-19 management, technological advancements, and democracy.
With regard to combating Chinese aggression, Kwek noted that there has been some progress, particularly in Vietnam and India, both of which have become more assertive against Beijing. She said that foreign observers should be mindful that ASEAN is not a homogenous group and that member nations have different policies and needs.
Kwek said the ASEAN nations need to emphasize that “Taiwan has a stake in peace and stability and future in the Indo-Pacific.” However, Taipei cannot engage in the region alone, it needs to seek more partnerships with like-minded countries, she added.
The research director said that ASEAN knows it needs to be united and that it must diversify its dependence on other countries. “Therefore, having Taiwan in the picture will give the region more options,” she said. Kwek also mentioned that working with like-minded countries would boost ASEAN’s efforts to deepen ties with Taiwan.