The EU needs to find its own voice in the Indo-Pacific

Viktor Buzna is a journalist, former visiting researcher at Peking University and PhD fellow at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan.

Visit any European friend in Taiwan, and you’ll soon hear about the incredible choice between staying on the island or returning home.

Europe is currently facing its most difficult times since World War II, with bloodshed in Ukraine, high inflation, widening social divisions and an energy crisis that makes everyday life frustrating and difficult. Meanwhile, Taiwan has become a source of increasing contention, as the rivalry between China and the United States slowly pushes it to the brink of war.

Despite this, the public mood on the island seems to be moving away from such external realities. Local media are often criticized for being politically motivated and limited in their coverage of cross-strait relations. Meanwhile, politicians talk more about relations with the US than the growing threat from China, and many locals seem to be burying their heads in the sand. “Confucian culture prescribes self-restraint for expressing opinions, but recently, local people have become increasingly guarded and introverted[ed], It’s hard to talk about politics here,” said François Bouchetoux, a professor of humanities at National Sun Yat-sen University, who sees growing social isolation and frustration after nine years in Taiwan.

No wonder Taiwanese don’t give much credit to French President Emmanuel Macron Recent Comments On Europe’s role in the Taiwan Strait. And the notion that Macron is using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to take advantage of better trade opportunities with China has raised concerns among many.

When the French president interviewed media outlets after visiting China last month, he said Europe should not get caught up in rising tensions between the US and China. His comments were widely seen as the result of a deal made with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, fueling suspicions that Macron was facing serious domestic and economic problems, and thus economic relations with China. Reviving the relationship could be on the top of their agenda.

Regardless of Macron’s intentions, however, he unquestioningly discussed Taiwan within the EU. During an informal meeting in Stockholm this month, the foreign ministers of the member states, along with High Representative Josep Borrell, held a strategic discussion on China. emphasizing on While the EU maintains its preference for cooperation with China and considers Beijing an indispensable player, Brussels’ stance on Taiwan remains unchanged. Furthermore, within its security strategy, the EU considers Taiwan to be one of two primary security concerns, along with the war in Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron | JAX WIT / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

If the European Council continues to approve Borrell’s new approach by the end of June, it would signal a departure from the EU’s current Taiwan policy. The bloc’s 2021 Indo-Pacific strategy addresses the Taiwan issue only briefly – though with cautionary language – and identifies the island state primarily as a trading partner.

However, Europe still faces criticism for being slow to implement these liberal objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. And from Taiwan’s point of view, it is clear that whether it is about security or economic relations, the position of the EU is not the top priority. Instead, regional countries such as Japan or South Korea are widely discussed, while the US remains Taiwan’s major partner.

The differing positions of all these stakeholders were well reflected in a recent conference held at the National Chung Sing University in Taichung. “We are at war. As you are at war,” former US military expert Guermantes Lalari said, taking aim at hesitant American allies. But another participant, Zsuzsza Anna Ferenczi, dismissed this war rhetoric, instead highlighting the dangers of unnecessary provocations towards China. An expert on EU-Taiwan relations, Ferenczi also underlined the fact that coordination between the 27 member states makes it difficult to move forward on the Taiwan issue at EU level.

“The EU does not need to contribute with military force to defend Taiwan, but there are many other fronts where its support is needed,” said I-chung Lai, a Taiwan expert on cross-strait relations. Indeed, at the political level, the EU could help craft a story to help deter China from an attack, and it could also help Taiwan resist Chinese coercion with its economic might. It can help monitor Chinese military deployments with military intelligence capabilities, or it can support the creation of a counter-blockade against China.

“Many member states, including Central and Eastern European countries, have adopted their own Indo-Pacific strategies apart from those of the EU. But, what will be the result? asked Mark Cheng, executive director of the European Union Center at National Taiwan University. According to him, there is a general uncertainty in the EU’s strategic planning – evidenced by the fact that the Ukrainian conflict broke out without Europe itself – and there are still many differences of opinion within the bloc about unified action.

The Indo-Pacific agenda of the EU currently reflects all these uncertainties as well.

“I had the opportunity to discuss European Indo-Pacific strategy with high-ranking military officials at a workshop held in France,” Cheng continued. “We, as researchers from Taiwan, were there to learn about their views, but I got the feeling that many attendees were expecting answers from us about the EU and France’s strategy. It is important for China to be clear about what it wants to achieve in this area and how it can cooperate with Taiwan.

And it is in the interests of both Taiwan and Europe to have their own long-term views of what the Indo-Pacific region means – defining the concept is not a sustainable solution for the US.