The European Union has decided to shelve a confidential trade plan that aims to increase trade relations with Taiwan. The postponement came at the last minute after Brussels was scheduled to announce the plan’s format on Friday, Nov. 12.
Although the EU announced last month in its new Indo-Pacific strategy that it would seek “trade and investment relationships with partners with whom it does not have trade and investment agreements, such as Taiwan.”
Beijing has been relentless in applying pressure and criticizing the EU and other democratic countries for meddling with what it believes to be internal affairs between Taiwan and mainland China.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has considered Taiwan to be a rightful part of its territory since the latter, known officially as the Republic of China, was defeated on the mainland by communist rebels in 1949, re-establishing itself on the island that year.
The communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) has vowed to reclaim Taiwan, even if it means utilizing military force.
Mainland China’s EU Ambassador Zhang Ming told a webinar organized by the European Policy Center that “[Taiwan] is a highly sensitive issue, but some people in Europe seem to underestimate the Chinese people’s aspiration for the complete reunification of our country. Let me stress that China’s position on the Taiwan question is firm and clear. Such a position remains unchanged and will never be changed.”
On Nov. 16, the ambassador warned during a press conference that “any attempt to develop official relations with Taiwan authorities is not acceptable because it’s a violation of the basic norms of the international relationship.”
PRC foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also issued a stern warning in October following the EU’s public show of support for the small island on Oct. 21, “The EU Parliament should immediately stop words and actions that undermine China sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In an unprecedented show of support for the island democracy, the EU sent a delegation to meet with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen for the first time on Nov. 4, with French committee chair Raphael Glucksmann saying: “We came here with a very simple, very clear message. You are not alone. Europe is standing with you, by you, in the defense of freedom and the defense of rule of law and human dignity.”
Glucksmann also added that “Taiwan is the most vivid, robust and enlightened democracy in this region.”
Now, the EU appears to be buckling under pressure applied from Beijing as the CCP’s threats threaten to sour relations between the two.
The South China Morning Post reported that according to sources briefed on the plans but not authorized to publicly discuss them, the original agenda would have included more cooperation between the EU and Taiwan on trade and economic issues, scheduling more regular meetings, enhanced collaboration on specific sectors such as semiconductors, and more visits by senior officials.
“We are looking into possible options to boost our engagement with Taiwan, which remains an important and like-minded trade partner. This is a work in progress,” said a spokeswoman from the EU’s trade commission in regards to the trade plans.
EU officials have shown repeated interest in strengthening economic and trade ties with Taipei, claiming that it is well within the parameters of the one-China policy for it to do so.
“The European Union has an interest in enhancing relations and cooperation with Taiwan, within the framework of its one-China policy,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said last month.
The European Parliament also voted by a landslide majority of 580 votes in favor of launching a report on Taiwan, calling for enhanced relations with the island and showing concern over China’s increased military presence.
In the report, released on Nov. 10, the EU states: “To step up cooperation, impact assessment, public consultation and scoping exercise for an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). Members highlight the importance of trade and economic relations between the EU and Taiwan, including on matters relating to multilateralism and the World Trade Organization, technology such as 5G, public health, and essential cooperation on critical supplies like semiconductors.”
The trade plan, which has been indefinitely shelved, may be revisited in the future according to a member of Parliament as reported by SCMP.