The Lithuania-China fallout over the opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius recently made headlines. But European decision-makers have long been debating on the bloc's potential revision of its Taiwan policy. Already a year ago prominent European policymakers released a piece arguing for “revisiting Europe’s ‘One China Policy’” while the EU organized the first EU-Taiwan investment forum.
Subsequently, tensions between Brussels and Beijing over the human rights sanctions and calls for studies into the origins of Covid-19 sparked discussions on Taiwan-related policies. Politics aside, Taiwan’s significance to the EU became apparent during the pandemic given its dependence on the self-ruled island’s role as a leading exporter of semiconductors which suffered huge delays.
The European Parliament pushes for closer ties to Taiwan
The European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of the first ever standalone report on EU-Taiwan relations at the beginning of the month. The report provides important indications about the closer – and to a certain extent bolder – direction the relationship should take. Although the document explicitly states the EU’s commitment to the “One China Policy” it also proposes an upgrade of the relationship with Taiwan. Should it materialize, it will not go down well with Beijing.
The report called for a closer partnership in the fields of electric vehicles, smart manufacturing and semiconductor technology, as well as R&D collaborations in the framework of the Horizon Europe program (2021-2027). Perhaps, the two most controversial points within the report are the recommendation for the European Commission to prepare an impact assessment for a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) with Taiwan and the proposal to rename the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan to The European Union Office in Taipei. However, it remains to be seen if the Commission will take on any of those two the Parliament’s proposals.
Member states are reluctant
Before the Commission could proceed with plans for the impact assessment and the renaming of the EU office in Taiwan, it must first find significant support from member states. Yet member states reactions to Beijing’s fallout with Vilnius have been relatively low-key as the European capitals continue to exercise caution when discussing forming closer ties with Taiwan.
While European lawmakers –including nine chairs of national Foreign Affairs Committees – supported Lithuania’s position, governments have been less inclined to do so. Several governments and current Slovenian EU Presidency criticized China’s economic coercion towards Lithuania, but steered away from explicitly supporting the Baltic states’ position. This is in line with how European capitals dealt with the backlash from Beijing after Czech Senate President’s Miloš Vystrčil’s visit to Taiwan a year ago. The US government, however, endorsed Lithuania’s stance and is reportedly considering allowing Taiwan to rename its representative office in its capital.
Another diplomatic sign of reluctance to vocally support engagement with Taiwan is the fact that only four Central and Eastern European (CEE) members (Czechia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia), decided to send vaccine donations to the island. In response, Taipei plans to send a 65-strong mission to Czechia, Slovakia and Lithuania in October to promote its investments in the CEE region. Poland’s donation amounted to 400,000 doses, making it the third biggest doner to Taiwan after Japan and the US. However, Warsaw clearly reiterated its commitment to the “One China Policy.” Such developments suggest that European governments are not likely to adopt the pro-Taiwan agenda championed by Lithuania at this stage.