EU Lawmakers Ignore China Protests, Seek Stronger Taiwan Ties

A European Parliament committee adopted a resolution on Wednesday calling for the forging of stronger ties between the European Union and Taiwan, while for the first time warning of China's "military belligerence" against the democratic island and its 23.5 million citizens.

The EP's Committee on Foreign Affairs voted 60-to-four in favor of the "EU-Taiwan Relations and Cooperation" report, which calls on the European Commission to assess the possibility of a EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA).

Six lawmakers abstained from the September 1 vote, which also passed an amendment to rename the "European Economic and Trade Office" in Taipei to the more formal "European Union Office in Taiwan."

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry expressed its "sincere thanks" to the committee on Thursday, saying it welcomes the new milestone in its relationship with the European bloc, which has encouraged member states to deepen ties with Taipei within the EU's own "one China" policy.

Earlier the same day, the Chinese mission in Brussels said it opposed the resolution.

In a statement on its website, a spokesperson described the report as exceeding "the scope of normal nonofficial economic and trade cooperation and cultural exchanges" between the EU and Taiwan, which China claims is part of its territory.

The foreign relations committee passed the resolution "[despite] China's repeated objections," said the statement, which urged the committee members to "appreciate the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue."

In a tweet on Thursday, German Greens MEP Reinhard Bütikofer said Beijing tried to stop the Taiwan report—the first of its kind to be adopted by the committee—by appealing to EP President David Sassoli.

"#Chinese ambassador to the EU had intervened with EP President #Sassoli before, trying in vain to stop the adoption," Bütikofer wrote. The EP will vote on the resolution at a plenary sitting in October, he added.

In a press release on Wednesday, the committee described Taiwan as "a key EU partner and democratic ally in the Indo-Pacific that contributes to maintaining a rules-based order in the midst of an intensifying rivalry between the great powers in the region."

It said the EU-Taiwan report "expresses grave concern over China's continued military belligerence, pressure, assault exercises, airspace violations and disinformation campaigns against Taiwan" and "urges the EU to do more to address these tensions and to protect Taiwan's democracy and the island's status as an important EU partner."

The statement continues: "MEPs insist that any change to Chinese-Taiwanese cross-strait relations must be neither unilateral nor against the will of Taiwanese citizens. They also issue a stark reminder of the direct connection between European prosperity and Asian security and of the consequences for Europe if a conflict were to extend well beyond the economic realm."

Swedish Democrats MEP Charlie Weimers, the report's rapporteur, said the EC must work on "an impact assessment, public consultation and a scoping exercise" for the EU-Taiwan BIA before the year's end.

"The Commission must now intensify EU-Taiwan relations and pursue a comprehensive enhanced partnership with Taiwan," he said in the committee's statement to the press.

None of the EU member states has formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which has a number of missions in Europe that serve as de facto embassies.

The EU recently backed a decision by Lithuania to set up a Taiwanese Representative Office in the country—the first to carry the language "Taiwan" instead of the purposely ambiguous "Taipei."

China recalled its ambassador to Vilnius and expelled Lithuania's top envoy from Beijing last month. Business sectors in Lithuania are reportedly bracing for indirect economic sanctions by China.

China's relations with the EU took a significant hit when the EP voted to suspend the ratification of a trade agreement passed in December. It came after the EU sanctioned Chinese officials it said were responsible for human rights violations in Xinjiang, before Beijing announced its own punitive measures in return.

The retaliatory sanctions targeted, among others, German MEP Bütikofer and Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz.

China considers Xinjiang and Taiwan among its "core interests." It protested a U.S.-EU communique that mentioned Taiwan in June, when President Joe Biden rallied European allies.

EU Lawmakers Seek Stronger Taiwan Ties
European Union flags are displayed at the European Council headquarters in Brussels on November 29, 2019. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images