For a long time, “One China” policy which recognizes the government of People’s Republic of China as the only legal government of China has been the backbone of the EU-Taiwan relations. It implicates that the cooperation between both partners is limited to non-political fields and excludes any diplomatic elements. On the surface, there is not much room for the EU to manoeuvre.

Thinking strategically and combining economic and value-oriented analysis, the EU should revaluate its relations with Taiwan. Identifying the island as an opportunity to counter-balance the growing influential role of the Chinese government in Asia, should be mutually beneficial for both EU and Taiwan. The former could maximise the protection of vast European interests present on the island and the region, while the latter could defend its self-ruling government and have a robust position in cross-strait relations. It would ultimately strengthen the “Taiwan Way” of breaking the taboos of discussing, institutionalising and exercising freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights, human dignity and equality in Greater China. These values are also deeply rooted in the EU.

Despite the fact that the EU and Taiwan have cooperated in various policy fields, such as consultations on human rights, judicial exchange programmes, Erasmus+ for education and Horizon 2020 for science and technology, some areas are still waiting to be pursued.

As an emerging global leader with geopolitical ambitions, the EU should not only maintain its explicit “neutral” policy, but also take an implicit stand for defending both Union values and interests with Taiwan in Asia.

A Bilateral Investment Agreement between Taiwan and the EU would have important benefits for both parties, notably i) the promotion of the investment of small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU and in Taiwan, bringing about more job opportunities for the EU; ii) the establishment of free, transparent, and healthy market mechanism between the EU and Taiwan, which would help investors to better understand the markets of both sides; and iii) as the EU actively engages in signing agreements on economic cooperation with other Asian countries, the BIA between the EU and Taiwan would help the EU complete its strategy in Asia.

Without a doubt the West shares the same economic values and geopolitical orientations with Taiwan. Therefore, the two countries should remain geopolitically aligned. 

Fostering peace, security and stability, human rights and democracy, intercultural dialogue and addressing climate change and environmental challenges, energy efficiency, business and trade, market access, resilience building, and regional integration are thus key priorities for the EU in Asia, a region in which the EU and its Member States have substantial interests. 

Even more achievable are strengthened economic and cultural people-to-people ties with Taiwan. For instance, only 15 of the EU’s 27 member states have set up commercial and trade offices in Taiwan. Non-official channels such as existing ‘Taiwan Friendship Groups’ in the UK, France, Germany, and the European Parliament could also be used to greater effect, encouraging collaboration in public health, academic research, science, technology, the arts, and education.

With its commitment to a transition to green energy, the Taiwanese market presents significant opportunities for European renewable energy companies. Forecasters predict that Taiwan will become the second-largest offshore windfarm market in Asia in the next 10 years, and geothermal heat power also has enormous potential, given Taiwan’s location on the Pacific ‘ring of fire,’ known for high seismological activity.

Taiwan aims to become an Asian Silicon Valley and, in addition to being a global semiconductor hub, is already a leader in the fields of virtual reality, robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, smart healthcare, and smart logistics. Particularly in light of intensifying calls to diversify supply chains away from China, the potential for European-Taiwan public and private sector collaboration in technological innovation fields is abundant.

With the daily decline in freedoms in Hong Kong, Taiwan’s importance as a Chinese-speaking regional hub that guarantees freedom of the press and rule of law will only increase. Media outlets and activists wishing to avoid harassment or detention in Hong Kong have already begun to emigrate to Taiwan. Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered to welcome those journalists recently expelled from Beijing, who were also for the first time refused re-location to Hong Kong.

European countries claiming freedom and democracy as core tenants of their foreign policy have a moral obligation to be a friend of Taiwan. The island faces increasing threats of military action from Beijing, and the Taiwanese people have clearly rejected the ‘one country, two systems’ model with their decisive re-election of Tsai Ing-wen in January. There is a need for a collective European re-assessment of its commitment to Taiwan as a willing and capable democratic partner.

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