February 6, 2023

Pelosi leaves Taiwan, but tensions rise in her wake

debt…Janice Liens/Reuters

BRUSSELS – Europe is increasingly wary of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, repression in Hong Kong, widespread censorship and widespread social controls, its technological advances, industrial espionage and aggressive rhetoric.

Europeans aren’t too happy about the “no limits” partnership China and Russia announced shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

But Europe does not support Taiwan’s independence and recognizes Beijing as the seat of Chinese power.

More important to the Europeans is keeping open trade with China and its biggest market, while aligning with Washington in trying to prevent any military aggression against Taiwan. However, no democracy-supporting European country has shown much willingness to go halfway around the world to help defend Taiwan militarily, as President Biden has promised at times (before the White House corrected him).

So European leaders have remained largely silent on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan.

“It’s not their struggle, it’s America’s struggle, and the Biden administration has been making it clear for the last year and a half that the Indo-Pacific is its priority,” said Philippe Le Corey, a China scholar at Harvard University. “Taiwan was so peaceful that most Europeans thought the trip was a mistake,” raising tensions “when there was a war going on in Europe itself.”

While Europe is wary of new investments in China, Taiwan is seen as a US issue, and in the larger Pacific, Europe has few military assets.

“America’s continued support for Taiwan has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with geopolitics and credibility,” said Gérard Arad, a former French ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

Lithuania was the only country in the EU to openly support Ms Pelosi’s visit. By A Twitter message, its foreign ministerGabrielius Landsbergis, now that “Speaker Pelosi has opened the door so wide to Taiwan, I believe other defenders of freedom and democracy will follow very soon.”

Maybe. But Lithuania and Beijing are in an ugly fight over Taiwan; Vilnius allowed Taiwan’s new unofficial embassy to use the word Taiwan in its name, and Beijing retaliated with trade restrictions. Other EU countries were upset that Lithuania, without consulting them, had created what they saw as an unnecessary problem.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach has been an outspoken critic of China’s domestic policies and human rights abuses. Without endorsing the Pelosi trip, Ms. Baerbaugh warned China against escalating tensions with Taiwan.

“We will not accept when a powerful neighbor violates international law and attacks its smaller neighbors in violation of international law – and that certainly applies to China,” he told Der Spiegel news magazine before the visit. “Given the brutal Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, it is important to make it clear that the international community does not approve of such behavior.”

But Europeans – and German businessmen – know China and the EU Major partners in two-way trade.

However, growing criticism of China has made Europe increasingly interested in the fate of Taiwan, which, like Ukraine, is another small democracy facing a nuclear-armed dictatorship.

In October last year, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu launched a charm offensive in Europe, stopping in Brussels for informal meetings with EU lawmakers. The European Parliament overwhelmingly supported a resolution calling for stronger ties with Taiwan, which it described as “an ally and democratic partner in the Indo-Pacific”.

Parliament sent its first formal delegation to the island, defying Beijing’s threats of retaliation and sanctions on some key lawmakers.

But Parliament is often powerless in foreign policy and does not speak for the European Commission, let alone for member states.

Britain, 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 on the cards.

However, the British visit will come in November or December after the Communist Party Conference. Before that, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, wants to project force to ensure his return to office. During Ms. Pelosi’s tenure, many analysts said Mr. believed to have angered Ji and provoked such a strong response.