European views on EU-Taiwan relations and Taiwan's economic and geostrategic importance

U.S. Treasury Department

Taiwan's Minister of Finance Lee Sush-der, Inspector General of Thailand’s Ministry of Finance Chularat Suteethorn, and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Finance Charles Collyns attended a working session during a meeting of APEC's finance ministers.

Article Highlights

  • Will Taiwan and Europe get closer, or will China get in the way?

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  • EU-Taiwan relations are generally positive and expanding, but unofficial.

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  • China’s rise has contributed to weakening Taiwan’s position in the EU’s common foreign and security policy.

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This paper was prepared for Taiwan’s Future in the Asian Century: Toward a Strong, Prosperous and Enduring Democracy Conference, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, November 10, 2011.

Abstract

European views on EU-Taiwan relations and Taiwan's economic and geostrategic importance

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While there are probably many different and sometimes conflicting opinions on Europe’s relations with Taiwan and Taiwan’s economic and geostrategic importance, the dominant European Union (EU) view today can be summed up as follows:

  1. Taiwan is a vibrant democracy whose economy and society have remained very dynamic but increasingly depend on China;
  2. Since 2008, relations between Beijing and Taipei have dramatically improved, stabilizing the situation in Taiwan Strait; however, Taiwan’s security has deteriorated under the double impact of China’s rapid military modernization and sustained pressure on the island and of Taiwan’s economy and society, and the elites’ growing interdependence and gradual integration with China;
  3. The relationships between the EU or its member states and Taiwan are, on the whole, positive and expanding; at the government level, they remain unofficial and generally consider Beijing’s sensitivities, but at the parliamentary, corporate, and societal levels, Euro-Taiwanese relations are warm and close, nurturing connections with both sides of the political spectrum and, perhaps more importantly, with the various facets of Taiwan’s economy, society, and culture.
  4. China’s rise has contributed to weakening Taiwan’s position in the EU’s common foreign and security policy and raising more questions about the island’s future and ability to indefinitely resist unification with the mainland; the debate taking shape today in the United States about America’s long-term interest in and capability to guarantee Taiwan’s security is feeding these doubts, increasing the influence of the "European fatalists," the section of the EU elites claiming that the unification process between China and Taipei is already underway.

 

Often prevalent among businesspeople and some segments of the political elites, this view is nevertheless rarely shared by EU political decision makers, strategic thinkers, and China/Taiwan experts.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan (cabestan@hkbu.edu.hk) is a professor and head of the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University and an associate research fellow at the Asia Center in Paris.

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