With the deepening of relations between the European Union and Taiwan, cybersecurity is at the forefront and at the center

Relations between the European Union and Taiwan have taken a surprising turn over the past year, as European officials embraced diplomatic cooperation with the self-ruled island even as Beijing intensified its coercive attempts to isolate Taipei. As the European Union finds common ground with Taiwan on cyber security and resilience, experts say Chinese tactics have inadvertently pushed the bloc closer to Taipei.

On paper, Taiwan’s official diplomatic allies appear to be dwindling, with Nicaragua the latest country to switch its allegiance to Beijing. However, in the past year the island has succeeded in mobilizing support among democracies around the world, particularly in deepening diplomatic engagement with Europe – marking an unprecedented shift in relations between the European Union and Taiwan.

This rapid warming of relations can be attributed to an increasingly aggressive Beijing, whose aggressive campaigns have prompted European lawmakers to reconsider Taiwan as a strategic partner in cybersecurity and resilience — angering China.

China’s Machiavellian attack backfires (in favor of Taiwan)

Although relations between the EU and China have long been complex, with the 2019 EU policy paper describing China as a “cooperative partner, economic competitor and systemic competitor at the same time”, the last two years of the pandemic have seen a change in European views of China. . the worst.

President Xi Jinping’s increasingly aggressive policy at home and abroad has drawn more caution and even anger in the European Union, which is becoming increasingly aware of threats from China, particularly in the form of disinformation and influence campaigns.

As the pandemic accelerated in June 2020, Brussels accused China of running Covid-19 disinformation campaigns within the European Union – the first time the European Commission had declared China a source of disinformation. Later that month, at a virtual summit between the European Union and China, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also suggested that China was behind a series of cyber attacks against European hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis.

A large-scale report on Chinese influence operations around the world by the French Institute for Strategic Research of the Military Institute, published in September, also examined Chinese disinformation targeting Sweden. Researchers say that Beijing views the Scandinavian country as a strategic Trojan horse through which to infiltrate and destabilize European institutions.

The report referred to China’s means of exerting its influence abroad as “Machiavellian”: increasingly similar to the tactics employed by Moscow, with a strategy that repeats the Prince’s often-quoted phrase: “It is better to be feared than loved.”

However, these Machiavellian tactics – along with Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and routine military intimidation of Taiwan – prompted Europe to take a tougher approach to Beijing.

In turn, the region has also begun to reconsider Taiwan as a strategic partner by virtue of its democratic values, cyber resilience strategies, and technological prowess.

European Parliament leads pro-Taiwan shift in Brussels

In a sign of Europe’s shifting attitude toward both China and Taiwan, the European Parliament adopted an unprecedented report on EU-Taiwan relations and cooperation in October with an overwhelming majority of 580 votes in favour, to 26 against.

Contrary to a previous warning to European institutions fearful of angering Beijing, the decision was uncharacteristically bold. Referring to Taiwan as a “key partner” in the Indo-Pacific region, he called for a comprehensive and enhanced partnership with the island, with recommendations such as upgrading the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan, signing a bilateral investment agreement with the island, and deepening cooperation in countering disinformation and cybersecurity. and cyber threats.

Although the resolution is non-binding, it shows increasing efforts to put the Taiwan issue on Brussels’ agenda while remaining within the scope of the EU’s “one China policy”, which states that there is only one China represented in international organizations.

In early November, Parliament sent its first-ever official delegation to Taiwan, consisting of seven members of the Special Committee on Foreign Intervention and Disinformation (INGE).

The commission met with senior Taiwan government officials and civil society organizations to learn from Taiwan’s experience in combating foreign interference. The island is on the front line of Chinese influence campaigns, which aim to undermine Taiwan’s democratic institutions.

The Taiwanese experience is very valuable for its uniqueness, in terms of China’s interests within Taiwan, their common language, their history, as well as Taiwan’s own development. This has led to an approach where we can take notes,” Marketka Grigorova, a Czech MEP who was part of the European delegation, told FRANCE 24.

“We would like to draw more closely from Taiwan’s experience, collaborate with NGOs and experts within the region, and possibly share that with other democratic allies, both in the region and beyond,” she added.

Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a postdoctoral researcher based in Taiwan and a former political advisor to the European Parliament, wrote that “threats to democracy and the economy in Taiwan pose threats to democracy and the economy in Europe…Understanding these links is vital to maintaining the momentum in bilateral relations.”

In the Indo-Pacific Strategy Paper, published in September, “the European Union indicated that rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait “may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity,” Firenze told France 24. For the first time, Taiwan has been identified as a semiconductor partner, in building flexible and diversified value chains and protecting data.”

In March, the European Commission announced its plan to increase its share of the global semiconductor market to 20% by 2030, after global shortages during the pandemic dealt a blow to its auto industry. Brussels is trying to persuade Taiwanese semiconductor maker TSMC, whose cutting-edge chips power everything from iPhones to artificial intelligence and fighter jets, to set up a factory in Europe.

“Through the European Chip Act, Europe will step up efforts to increase production, but we also want to cooperate with our like-minded partners, including Taiwan,” Sabine Welland, Director-General of the European Commission’s Trade Division, said during the virtual Taiwan Expo. The EU Investment Summit in October.

Welland added, “Not only because Taiwan excels in semiconductor production, but also because technology is ultimately a security issue. We want the EU’s digital agenda to be shaped alongside our like-minded partners and in accordance with our shared values.”

Not covered by China

As expected, European lawmakers’ trip to Taiwan last month sparked outrage in China, which accused the European Parliament of “a serious violation of the EU’s commitment to the one-China policy” and threatened “further response according to the development of the situation.”

Raphael Glucksmann, the French MEP who led the delegation, is among 11 EU members sanctioned by Beijing in March for their advocacy regarding abuses in the Xinjiang region. On his way to Taiwan, he wrote on Twitter: “Neither threats nor sanctions will frighten me. I will always stand by those who fight for democracy and human rights.”

After visiting Taiwan, the EU parliament said its delegates agreed to explore further partnership avenues, including the possibility of establishing a joint center in Taipei to counter disinformation. The European Parliament and Taiwan report also called on the European Commission to “urgently begin an impact assessment” on a bilateral investment agreement with the island.

But although the Commission, in a joint communication on the European Union’s Indo-Pacific strategy in September, “set out that it will continue deep trade and investment relations with partners, […] Like Taiwan”, it has so far refrained from concluding such a deal, fearing that such a move would further strain relations between Europe and China.

Indeed, further cooperation between the EU and Taiwan will also depend on the foreign policies set by the member states, especially with the coming to power of the new German government and France preparing for the presidential elections in April 2022.

In a shift from Germany’s economy-driven policy on China under Merkel, Germany’s Green Party, which now leads the foreign ministry, has pledged a more “value-based” approach and a tougher stance toward Beijing. In return, the three alliance partners in the new government called for expanding relations with Taiwan.

“EP’s [European Parliament] The work contributed to seeing cooperation with Taiwan as “normal” and led the European Union to adopt pro-Taiwan language.”

“Taiwan has succeeded in building international support, as democracies are more comfortable to engage in Taiwan in practical solutions […] This is happening because of aggressive China. In fact, Beijing is contributing to an increase in the number of Taiwan in Europe, not to a decrease.”


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