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Date: 27 October 2021 Author: Patryk Szczotka
Josep Borrell’s Speech, Challenging Issues of Lithuania and Taiwan
The relations of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with both the European Union (EU) and Taiwan have become complicated recently. These difficult events were summarized in a speech delivered at the Plenary of the European Parliament by Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, on behalf of Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In terms of the PRC and the EU, the difficult relationship became apparent primarily over Lithuania’s significant rapprochement with Taiwan and the following diplomatic repercussions. Lithuanian actions against Beijing included recalling the Chinese ambassador from Vilnius, halting the Chinese freight trains headed to Lithuania[i], and announcing the Globally Connected Europe initiative, which, according to behind-the-scenes reports, is a direct response to China’s New Silk Road.[ii] Recently, the Republic of China (ROC) has come under intense military pressure – a record number of airspace violations involving nearly 150 warplanes were reported.[iii] Consequently, President of the ROC Tsai Ing-wen delivered a strong speech on the occasion of the Xinhai Revolution. Among others, she emphasized the importance of the cooperation between the island and the EU.[iv] This turn of events led to a speech by Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, delivered on behalf of Josep Borrell.
Vestager announced that “Taiwan is a like-minded partner and the European Union will continue supporting its system of governance based on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, its open society and market economy.”[v] However, the speech also included the following passage “we, Europeans, have an interest in preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,”[vi] which can be interpreted as an attempt to balance the EU’s values policy and its economic interests in the PRC, one of the Union’s most important trading partners.[vii] It was also highlighted that “the European Union has an interest in enhancing relations and cooperation with Taiwan, within the framework of its One China policy.”[viii] This means that any attempts of the ROC to proclaim its independence will not meet with the approval of the EU.
A reference to the Lithuanian issue constituted an important part of the speech: “the European Union also has to address China’s assertiveness and attempts to intimidate Taiwan’s like-minded partners.”[ix] Moreover, it was declared that “Lithuania and all Member States that find themselves coerced for taking decisions that China finds offensive, they need support and they need our solidarity. The European Union will continue pushing back these attempts and adopt appropriate tools, such as the anti-coercion instrument currently under preparation.”[x] Certainly, the EU’s focus on Lithuania’s actions towards China sends an important message that the EU leadership acknowledges the difficulties and risks emerging in the PRC’s relations with Member States. The development of a mechanism for consulting and producing a collective response to the challenges that arise in relations between Europe and China remains a key issue. These solutions must go beyond declarations. While the Globally Connected Europe initiative may become a valuable scheme to the EU that will strengthen its position in the world, the key EU stakeholders must also attach importance to the development of relations with China, both by individual Member States and the EU as a whole. Only active steps in foreign policy are able to positively affect the unity of the EU.
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