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Taiwanese foreign minister warns of global struggle with China, Russia during European trip

Joseph Wu (總統府/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The war in Ukraine has opened a global fight between democracies and autocracies and Taiwan needs Europe to play a larger role in securing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on June 14.

“We often talk about the war in Europe and the great threat to peace in Asia as two separate spheres,” Wu said in a speech at a conference in Prague. “The reality is that they are highly interconnected, and the impact is global.”

Wu also warned that increased cooperation between Beijing and Moscow poses a global threat and expressed growing concern over Russian-Chinese naval exercises in the Pacific, with the most recent set of drills concluding last week.

“What we are witnessing is that the two authoritarian forces are collaborating with each other, trading ever more with each other, and feeding more into the hunger for expansion,” Taiwan’s top diplomat said about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, Taiwan, and elsewhere.

The comments came at a conference hosted by the European Values Center for Security Policy, a Prague-based think tank. The conference opened with a speech by Czech President Petr Pavel.

Wu spoke after Pavel, and though the Czech president left immediately after his speech — not meeting or speaking with Wu — their presence at the conference marked the first time a Taiwanese minister and European head of state shared a room together.

The quest for recognition and extensive informal ties are particularly vital to Taiwan, which only has formal diplomatic relations with 13 countries and the Vatican — the only country in Europe to recognize Taipei.

But the self-ruling island of 23 million people has built up its informal links to Europe in recent years, especially in Central and Eastern Europe where countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania have been at the forefront.

In framing the war in Ukraine as part of a worldwide struggle between autocracies and democracies where Taiwan is also on the front line, Wu called on European countries to increase their rhetorical support for Taipei and protect against any Chinese military moves on Taiwan, which Beijing views as its territory and has vowed to unify with the mainland by peace or by force.

“In order for Taiwan to stay strong and resilient and to have the courage to continue the policy of maintaining the status quo, we do need support from our European friends,” Wu said.

He added that while the war in Ukraine has caused global economic fallout, conflict in the Taiwan Strait would disrupt major supply chains and be a “shock wave” for Europe and the world.

“It will be the same or even worse if war is to break out in the Taiwan Strait where roughly half of the world’s container ships sail through and more than 90 percent of the most advanced computer or semiconductor chips are produced,” Wu said.

Building Taipei’s Europe Ties

The Czech Republic has been particularly forward-leaning in its engagement with Taiwan.

While Prague still adheres to a One-China policy that doesn’t extend formal diplomatic recognition to Taipei, it has also taken steps in recent years to shore up informal relations.

Most recently, Pavel accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen after his election in January, which marked a departure by Taipei from previous practice in dealing with high-ranking officials. Wu also visited Prague in 2021 and met on June 13 with Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil, a leading Czech figure in building closer ties with Taipei.

Beijing regularly denounces any form of contact between Taiwanese and foreign officials, viewing it as encouraging global recognition of Taipei’s separate status from China. Speaking last week when details of Wu’s visit were confirmed, China’s Foreign Ministry urged Europe not to have any official exchanges with Taiwan or support any “independence forces.”

Despite Beijing’s anger, Prague and others have continued to increase contacts with the island and reduce its isolation.

Speaking at the conference in Prague, Pavel appeared to share a similar sentiment as Wu when he said that authoritarian countries around the world were closely watching “how democratic countries react to aggression” from Moscow in Ukraine because “this will define their [own] steps in the future.”

The Czech president also warned about Beijing’s desire to “change the world to better fit its interests” and called for greater scrutiny when it came to screening Chinese investments in strategic areas and also for the EU to take further steps to lessen Europe’s economic dependence on China.

“It’s not about isolating China; it’s not about not doing business with China. We should do it the same way that China does to us,” Pavel said. “Let’s not create dependencies. Let’s do business and let’s cooperate when it is beneficial to both sides — but let’s keep in mind that China’s long-term interests and values are not compatible with ours.”

Wu declined to answer reporters’ questions about what other stops he was expected to make on his European trip, although Reuters — quoting anonymous sources briefed on the minister’s trip — reported that he will visit EU headquarters in Brussels.