Rasmussen: Europe needs a new “One China” policy

Writing in Die Zeit, Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued that the European Union is being co-opted in China’s efforts to reinvent the One-China Policy at the expense of democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the piece he argues it’s tile for the EU to step up relations with Taiwan.   Read the op ed here. […]

Writing in Die Zeit, Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued that the European Union is being co-opted in China’s efforts to reinvent the One-China Policy at the expense of democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the piece he argues it’s tile for the EU to step up relations with Taiwan.

 

Read the op ed here. Or an English translation can be found below.

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When the EU heads of state and government meet for a special foreign policy summit next week, the EU’s future relationship with China will play an important role. Anyone among the European leadership elite who still has doubts about China’s global ambitions has been able to gain a lasting impression of Beijing’s new self-confidence in recent weeks. First, the Chinese foreign minister blatantly threatened the chairman of the Czech Senate that he would pay a “high price” for his planned trip to Taiwan. At the recent EU-China video summit, President Xi reacted very sharply when he was asked about human rights violations by the People’s Republic in the provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet as well as in Hong Kong. And the recent arrest of Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong testified that Beijing has become almost completely immune to criticism from abroad.

Beijing is reconfiguring the ‘One China, Two Systems’ policy in an increasingly aggressive posture. This leaves European leaders with a choice: accept President Xi’s revisionism and let China bulldozer the rule of law in Hong Kong and bully Taiwan; or truly respect the ‘One China’ principle and resume a position of engaging with Taiwan – a position that Europe maintained even a few years ago.

The EU’s ‘One China Policy’ recognizes that there is one China represented in international organizations, with Beijing acting as the main interlocutor for Hong Kong and Macau, which operate different economic and administrative systems. Although Beijing extends this principle to Taiwan, even following the ‘One China’ model – as the EU has traditionally done – does not exclude standing up for democratic Taiwan and making sure its rights are upheld and its voice heard internationally.

But now Beijing is trying to rewrite this relationship for us. It complains bitterly whenever European politicians even acknowledge Taiwan’s existence. It’s the tactic of a global bully – threatening supposed friends, and feigning great offence when it doesn’t get its way.

If Europe wishes to be a geopolitical force, it cannot continue its policy of below-the-radar engagement with Taipei. It’s time to lift its relations with the island. Taiwan is a well-functioning liberal democracy and the 21st biggest economy in the world with advanced technological companies such as in the critical semi-conductor sector.

What should the EU do? First, the EU should signal that it is moving ahead with a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). Before China began revising the ‘One China’ approach, the EU had launched talks for an EU-Taiwan BIA. The assumption then was that Europe should first conclude a similar deal with Beijing. Reaching a conclusion of the China talks has been a major priority of the current German EU Presidency. However, the process has stalled because Beijing is unwilling to commit to the necessary reforms and guarantees. The lack of progress saw an EU-China meeting earlier this year fail to adopt a communique, and this September’s iconic Leipzig summit – a highlight of Germany’s EU Presidency – has been postponed for a video call instead. Officially the excuse was Covid, but I have also heard senior figures in Brussels and Berlin vent frustration at Chinese foot dragging.

An agreement with Taiwan is not an act of charity; the EU has a trade and investment deficit with Taiwan that it would like to tackle and Taiwan is a highly-developed, high-tech economy. As we look to our post-Covid economic recovery, building an investment partnership with Taiwan would create new opportunities and the EU should restart these talks in earnest.

Second, the EU should insist on Taiwan’s participation as an observer to the upcoming World Health Assembly, which will be dedicated to Covid-19. Taiwan is 160 km from mainland China yet it has seen fewer than 500 Covid-19 cases and seven deaths. Taipei has also helped Europe contain Covid by providing millions of masks and other equipment. It has lessons for the world that will save lives, yet we indefensibly deny them access to the main global forum through fear of upsetting China. Taiwan was an observer to the Assembly until 2016 and its voice deserves to be heard again.

Thirdly, Europe should bring Taiwan into an informal grouping of like-minded democracies from the Indo-Pacific region. Over the recent years, the EU has strengthened economic and political ties with democracies in the region, from its enhanced partnership with Japan to trade deals with Vietnam, Singapore and forthcoming deals with Australia and New Zealand. France and recently Germany have developed their own Indo-Pacific strategies. Time is right for Europe to work even more closely with Indo-Pacific democracies, including Taiwan, on big questions like technology and interconnectivity based on our values of democracy, rule of law and reciprocity. By supporting democracies in the Indo-Pacific region, we support democracy at home too.

There’s no doubt these steps would trigger a harsh response from Beijing. It will threaten, pressure, punish and feign great offence. But here European unity is essential. Beijing’s tactic has been to divide and pressure Europe, but if we act as one, China bully tactics will fail. It’s also unlikely Beijing will open a new front while also fighting a trade war with the USA. Europe wants to be more sovereign and geopolitical, but if we allow China to rewrite its ‘One China’ policy to the detriment of our own interests, our claim to be either sovereign or geopolitical will ring hollow.

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