BRUSSELS – Europe is increasingly wary of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, repression in Hong Kong, rampant censorship and pervasive social controls, not to mention its technological advances, of its industrial espionage and aggressive rhetoric.
Europeans are also not very happy with the “limitless” partnership that China and Russia proclaimed shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But Europe does not support the independence of Taiwan and recognizes Beijing as the seat of Chinese power.
And what matters most to Europeans is maintaining open trade with China and its huge market, while joining Washington in trying to prevent any military aggression against Taiwan. No European country, no matter how pro-democracy, has shown a willingness to go to the other side of the world to help defend Taiwan militarily, as President Biden has sometimes pledged to do ( before the White House fixes it).
European leaders have therefore been mostly silent about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan.
“It’s not their fight, it’s America’s fight, and the Biden administration has made it clear for a year and a half that the Indo-Pacific is its priority,” said Philippe Le Corre, specialist. of China at Harvard University. “Taiwan was pretty calm, and most Europeans think the trip was a mistake,” which is raising tensions as “there is a war going on in Europe itself.”
If Europe is increasingly wary of new investments in China, Taiwan is considered an American problem, just like the great Pacific, where Europe has few military means.
“The United States’ enduring support for Taiwan has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with geopolitics and credibility,” said Gerard Araud, the former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.
The only country in the European Union to openly support Ms Pelosi’s visit is Lithuania. Through a Twitter message, his Minister of Foreign AffairsGabrielius Landsbergis, said that now that “President Pelosi has opened the door to Taiwan much wider, I’m sure other defenders of freedom and democracy will come through very soon.”
Maybe. But Lithuania and Beijing are in an ugly spat over Taiwan; Vilnius allowed Taiwan’s new unofficial embassy to use the word Taiwan in its name, and Beijing retaliated with trade restrictions. Other European Union countries were upset that Lithuania, without consulting them, had created what they considered an unnecessary problem.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has been a vocal critic of China’s domestic politics and human rights abuses. Without supporting Pelosi’s trip, Ms Baerbock warned China against escalating tensions with Taiwan.
“We do not accept international law being broken and a powerful neighbor attacking its smaller neighbor in violation of international law – and that of course also applies to China,” she told the magazine. Der Spiegel before the visit. “Given Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, it is important to make it clear that the international community does not condone such behavior.”
But Europeans – and German businessmen – know that China and the European Union are huge bilateral trade partners.
Yet growing criticism of China has led Europe to take a greater interest in the fate of Taiwan, which, like Ukraine, is another small democracy in the face of a nuclear-armed authoritarian.
In October last year, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, launched a charm offensive in Europe, stopping in Brussels for informal meetings with European Union lawmakers. The European Parliament overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for stronger ties with Taiwan, which it described as a “democratic partner and ally in the Indo-Pacific”.
Then, Parliament sent its first-ever official delegation to the island, defying threats of retaliation from Beijing and its sanctions imposed on some prominent lawmakers.
But the Parliament is largely powerless when it comes to foreign policy and does not speak for the European Commission, let alone for the Member States.
Britain, which is no longer a member of the European Union, has been more outspoken in its criticism of China than other European countries, and a visit to Taiwan by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has long been anticipated.
However, the British trip would take place in November or December, after the Communist Party congress. Before that, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, wants to project his strength to ensure he gets another term. It was Ms Pelosi’s timing that many analysts say angered Mr Xi and prompted such a strong response.