EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • On September 12, 2018, The European Parliament approved the EU-China relations report. The report not only forms the future of EU-China policy but also covers a wide range of issues regarding the relations between China and its neighboring areas or countries including deterioration of human rights between Tibet and China, political persecution such as the cases of human rights and democracy activists Liu Xiaobo and Lee Ming-Che, religion freedom, and military provocation towards Taiwan.
  • Although there is no legal effect in the report, it is obvious that the EU worries about an emboldened China’s rapidly expanding global influence. As for the Taiwanese government, the report is a welcome show of support from the EU since this is the “first time” the EU mentioned Taiwan strait issue explicitly in a report, according to the Taiwanese government.

The report states that EU countries should urge the People’s Republic of China to refrain from provoking Taiwan and endangering stability in the Taiwan strait. Additionally, the report encourages more conversations and negotiations between Beijing and Taipei, concerning the bilateral investment agreement. Regarding this issue, Taiwan has long been excluded from participating to international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The EU points out that this is not in line with the EU’s interests.

It seems that the EU does care about China’s expanding influence over its neighboring regions or countries and the EU does attempt to build an understanding relationship with Xi’s government. Moreover, referring to the report, the fact that the EU shares the same position with the US regarding the Taiwanese issue should give the Chinese government pause.

Throughout the recent policies such as China-EU 2020 strategic agenda and cooperation; in contrast with the rising tense with China-US trade, the Chinese government apparently seeks to weaken the unity between the EU and the US economically. On one hand, China is embroiled in a trade war with the US; whereas on the other hand, more and more economic cooperation is happening between China and the individual EU Member States. The report shows the negative position against militarily provocation from China to Taiwan, which is in line with the position of the US government. Previously, the present spokesperson of external affairs in PRC, Hua Chun Ying, stressed out that the EU should not interfere with the China-Taiwan relationship since Taiwan belongs to the internal affair of PRC. Thus, the report not only increases the tensions between EU and China, it also shows the possibility of the EU joining the US concerning PRC’s potential military invasion to Taiwan. In the future, the EU may be in line with the US not only in the position of Taiwan strait issue but also economic policy. The US government has already imposed new tariff policy on Chinese goods and has been supporting Taiwan against Chinese military provocation.

Currently, the US-China tension improves the US-Taiwan relationship. On August 14th, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 (NDAA), in which it clearly states the provision for supporting Taiwan’s defense and enhancing the bilateral military cooperation with Taiwan.

In the future, it is also possible that the EU would be in line with the US to isolate China concerning economic policies. According to the report “Authoritarian advance: Responding to China’s growing political influence in Europe” published this year by Merics and Gippi, the influence of China in the EU has long been ignored and has received less scrutiny than Russia because the EU has stronger economic ties with China.

However, the report shows that the EU has become more aware of the issue and is now, slowly, starting to act.

Although it is valuable for the Taiwanese government that the EU shows the negative attitude for provoking military force from China, as long as the EU in principle still adheres to “One China Policy”, which is stated clearly the article V. in the EU China report, the diplomatic situation would still be difficult for the Taiwanese government and the respect of One China Policy still causes inconvenience for Taiwanese citizens. Although the report states that prohibiting Taiwan from participating to the WHO violates EU’s interest, the supporting measures have so far not been seen and thus, it is hard to imagine whether Taiwanese will receive practical support from the EU in the future concerning the participation of WHO and other international organizations.

The EU-China relations report shows the EU’s affirmative attitude against China’s authoritarian state, which is more than appreciated especially for the Taiwanese government. The EU-China report is principled and symbolically valued; however, the more strategic policies are still lacking, neither on the Taiwan strait issue that are mentioned in the report nor the EU-China cooperation in general.

The next challenge for the European Parliament is to carefully re-evaluate the current EU-China cooperation and formulate inclusive, beneficial policies for all actors rather than the current zero-sum policies.

Shang-Yen Lee



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