MEPs meet Taiwan envoy despite China risks

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As Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu made an unprecedented trip to Brussels on Friday, it was unclear whether Europe would face repercussions from China for displaying closer ties to the autonomous island. East Asia claimed by China.

China previously imposed sanctions on EU parliamentarians after the EU sanctioned Chinese officials linked to Xinjiang, a westernmost Chinese province where millions of Muslims from ethnic minorities have been held in detention centers. internment camps.

Now, as Wu’s travels take him to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania and Belgium, it is possible that China will use the same tactic again, according to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the US.

“Beijing could impose sanctions on European officials who met with Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. It could also postpone a scheduled meeting between Xi Jinping and European Council President Charles Michel, and a 27 + 1 meeting that was discussed, ”she said, referring to a summit between China and EU leaders.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a capricious province that will one day be united with the mainland. Under Xi, Beijing has adopted a more aggressive policy of ousting Taiwan from the international arena and quickly becomes angry when its government or officials are treated as if they are independent.

After Wu’s trip was announced last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Europe not to “undermine the political foundation of bilateral relations” with China, according to Reuters.

Without being discouraged, Charlie Weimers, Swedish member of the European Parliament and his rapporteur on EU-Taiwan relations, Updates shared on meeting Wu on Twitter, as did the Belgian politician Els Van Hoof, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the country’s House of Representatives, one of the chambers of the Belgian Parliament, and member of the Interparliamentary Alliance on China.

While Wu has visited Europe before, his meetings in the administrative capital of the EU are unprecedented. The trip comes as Taiwan publicizes its growing ties with EU member states such as Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Together, the three countries have donated more than 850,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan after previously receiving face masks and other medical supplies donated by Taiwan.

At the same time, Europe has become more suspicious of China’s expansion in the Asia-Pacific region, prompting the bloc to include China as a potential security threat in its first report. of Indo-Pacific Strategy released this year. Germany, France and the Netherlands also have separate strategies for the region, which include concerns about China, while NATO is also publicly discussing the Asian superpower.

“There is tangible pressure for the EU to strengthen its ties with Taiwan, largely shaped by the [European Parliament]”said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, doctoral researcher at the European Union Center in Taiwan at National Taiwan University.

The pressure, she added, is not for the EU to recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, but rather to disconnect EU-Taiwan cooperation from EU-China relations.

Push for a trade deal

Wu on Friday called for a bilateral investment deal that could see Taiwan invest more in Europe in a speech at an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance conference on China in Rome, which he attended via video link, according to the reports. Taiwanese media.

While China has major investments from Western Europe and to Serbia, Hungary and Poland, China’s promises of big plans elsewhere in the Baltic States, in Eastern and Central Europe have not been as successful as some countries once hoped for it.

Earlier this year, Lithuania withdrew from the 17 + 1 regional cooperation bloc of Central and Eastern European countries, as well as Estonia and Latvia, in an effort to promote closer trade relations with Beijing. China has invested around $ 94.7 million in Lithuania – a relatively small amount – in projects since 2015, according to the findings of the Center for Asian Studies in Central and Eastern Europe.

China halted trade with the small Baltic state in retaliation for its actions. China also presented the economic benefits of a closer relationship, as seen last week in Greece, where Chinese state-owned company COSCO increased its stake in the Greek port authority of Piraeus to 67%. , according to Nikkei Asia.

Beijing’s carrot and stick approach “serves to send a message to member states that might be on the fence that there would be consequences to their ‘mistakes’,” Ferenczy said. “But he also has an internal consideration, to show that China does not allow countries, for example Lithuania, to disrespect him, but that China is generous and that its generosity is respected, for example in Greece.

Earlier this week, however, Wu himself warned European nations to “think twice” about Chinese investments.

“If you think you are dependent on China, your foreign policy can get skewed,” Wu told RFE / RL in an exclusive interview in Prague on October 27. “If you think you depend on China, your actions or your policies, your behaviors should be [cautious] because you don’t want to jeopardize your business opportunities.

Part of Wu’s diplomatic rhetoric, RFE / RL reported, is to offer Taiwan as a modest, open and democratic alternative to Beijing’s authoritarian politics, “wolf warrior” tactics and so-called “government diplomacy.” debt trap ”which has become associated with Chinese investments across the world, from Africa to Central Asia.

For small countries with fewer strategic interests in China, Beijing might not do much in retaliation, especially if EU states support each other. Lithuania, for example, should not suffer major economic consequences because of a lower number of economic ties with China than a country like Poland or Serbia.

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