Taipei Calling?

I don’t know about you, but this sort of thing worries me:

The framework that has buttressed peace in the Taiwan Strait for decades is disintegrating. Changes in Taiwan, as well as some of Beijing’s counterproductive behavior, are undermining its foundations. Unless an improved framework is adopted soon, war across the strait will become increasingly probable …

The conundrum is stark. Taiwan sees itself as an “independent, sovereign country.” China, with a national fixation over a century long on achieving territorial unity, has staked the legitimacy of its regime on not allowing Taiwan juridical stature as a sovereign country. …

Each side at this point is pursuing efforts to change facts on the ground in its own favor. China is deploying additional missiles that can strike Taiwan … Taiwan is deepening its effort to instill a distinctive Taiwanese identity, strengthen its bona fides as an independent country and acquire offensive-weapon capabilities.

Especially when it’s written by very serious people.

So I wondered, does Europe have a policy for this eventuality?

I had a look here, here, and at the Commission’s Strategy Paper here. This last, unfortunately, devotes more space to Denmark’s bilateral aid for China (not that there’s anything wrong with Denmark’s bilateral aid, a friend of mine works in that section of their foreign ministry) than it does to Taiwan and what are delicately called cross-straits relations..

So I’m still wondering, does Europe have a policy for this eventuality? Should it? What does either choice say about Europe’s role in the world?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

9 thoughts on “Taipei Calling?

  1. This is one of those political landmines whose causes are now buried so deep that they are almost impossible to dig up and deal with directly. If the west and Taiwan had simply recognised the PRC in the 50’s, when they weren’t rich or powerful, they could have recognised Taiwan as an independent state. But instead, everybody went with the “one China” policy as an anti-communist measure. Now that China is big and rich and agrees with the “one China” thing, everyone is stuck with it.

    The EU should decide that Taiwan has the right to proper political independence if that’s what its people want. We should break with the “one China” policy. Better for the EU to do it now when it has very little trade with China and can do this without threatening any immediate interests.

    The US has too much money riding on China to ever make such a decision. Europe doesn’t. China is eager to develop political and economic relations with the EU as a counterweight to the US. Now is the time to do it, before the EU is just as stuck as America is.

  2. “The US has too much money riding on China to ever make such a decision. Europe doesn’t.”

    Scott, could you clarify this remark? China has 500 billion USD in reserves. I think it’s more that China has too much money riding on the U.S.

  3. Leave it to George.
    After throwing away 50 yrs of US policy on Israel, why wouldn’t he, in an off-hand remark, say something along the lines of “Well, duh, of course Taiwan is independent from China”?

  4. Andrew – money is just slips of paper. It’s not even that most of the time. The US can’t simply tear up China’s dollar reserves by fiat without paying an incredible political price. It could be justified only if China created a serious provocation like invading Taiwan.

    China, on the other hand, can flood the world market with spare dollar. It would cost something, but not terribly much. It’s just bits of paper. If China sold dollars and bought Euros in a big way, China’s currency would not have to shift much in value. Furthermore, the US is more dependent on Chinese trade than Europe is. It has more to lose by creating causes for conflict than Europe does.

    So, in terms of the power money can give a state, China has the upper hand over the US but doesn’t over Europe.

  5. Scott: The West couldn’t have recognised Taiwan as an independent country in the 1950s because Taiwan didn’t want to be one – they still considered themselves to be a Government in exile, and the rightful rulers of all China, ready to resume their place when Red China collapsed.

    As Andrew points out, this is yet another issue on which Europe will find it impossible to create a common policy. The Scandanavian states are anti-Chinese on human rights grounds. The new ex-Communist states are anti-Chinese because they see the very obvious parallels between China / Taiwan situation and their own relations with Russia. The Germans and French would sell their own grandmothers to China because they are bankrupt, and the French have the added incentive of selling arms to China because it would create more trouble for the Americans.

  6. “China has the upper hand over the US but doesn’t over Europe.”

    Nah. Remember the famous adage: if you can’t repay a thousand dollars to your bank, it’s your problem; if you can’t repay a million dollars to your bank, it’s their problem.

    “If China sold dollars and bought Euros in a big way, China’s currency would not have to shift much in value.” No, but the Eur/Usd exchange rate would go seriously out of whack and China would be a big loser. On paper, with an exchange rate of 1.2, those 500 billion dollars look like they’re worth 417 billion Euro. If China, however, ever tried to convert those dollars into euro, expect the exchange rate to head to 2. Taking an average conversion rate of 1.6, that means China gets only 312 billion euro. That’s almost 25% less, going up in smoke. And if Japan (and South Korea) decided to join the selling, expect even worse. Nah, China is caught.

    “Furthermore, the US is more dependent on Chinese trade than Europe is.” Again, China needs the US more than the US needs China.

  7. Scott Martens: “The EU should decide that Taiwan has the right to proper political independence if that’s what its people want. We should break with the “one China” policy.”

    I agree that Europe’s position should be that Taiwanese independence (or reunion) is up to the Taiwanese people.

    I think this could be usefully tied in with the issue of European arms sales to China. Bluntly: China gets the arms embargo lifted, in return for human rights concessions and recognition of Taiwan’s independence.

  8. I expect this to be settled by power politics and dollars. Hopefully there will be a compromise patched in. I can’t see China giving in, and I can’t see the US pushing very hard. The US doesn’t seem to be able to confront any of the real bad guys (Saudi, Pakistan, China; just barely North Korea). Yeah, it’s true that the US could conceivably afford to resist China if that was our priority, but it doesn’t fit with all the other stuff we’re doing. Opportunity cost.

    Talk about China’s territorial integrity shouldn’t be taken at face value. Before 1948 Taiwan wasn’t under ROC or PROC rule either one, but Japanese. About 1600-1900 it was one of the least important parts of frontier China. In no way the Chinese heartland. By ancient principle, everything that was ever China’s is potentially Chinese again, and if the world order weakens significantly you can expect pressure on Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Siberia, maybe even Burma. They’ve renounced most claims to those places but they’ll un-renounce if necessary. Hard-nosed realism is a Chinese talent.

    The deep belief of the Chinese people that Taiwan is part of their heartland is mostly engineered. If China renounced claims to Taiwan hardliners within the government and their civilian cronies would grumble, but the populace would adjust immediately.

    I’ve felt for a long time that the Chinese fetish on unity (only one Emperor) has been seriously detrimental. One outcome is that dissidents had no place to flee to, and either died or were marginalized. Look at how the US, France, Holland, Switzerland, etc., have benefitted from the talents of exiles and refugees. China neither exported nor imported dissidents, it just suffocated and murdered them.

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