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Taiwan's Wu wants 'more European voices' on China

June 18, 2023

Taiwan's foreign minister told DW that he hopes "more European voices" will caution China against aggression toward the island. Taipei is also pushing for an EU investment deal, but Brussels says that's not on the cards.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu wears a tie and gestures with his hands
Wu says he hopes "more European voices" will caution Beijing against aggression toward TaipeiImage: DW

Taiwan is trying to convince more EU actors to caution China against aggression toward the island.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said a recent trip to Europe was aimed at drumming up support. "We are continuing to make our effort so that there can be more European voices to caution against China: That the peace and stability over the Taiwan Strait is very important," Wu said in an interview with DW and other outlets.

Wu said he wanted to "remind European friends that there's very close economic interests between Taiwan and Europe" and he hoped that EU governments "understand the possible impact" aggression against Taiwan could have "on the global stage."

Asked what the European Union could do to deter potential Chinese aggression, Wu said recent EU statements referring to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and warnings against any unilateral change of the status quo were a "powerful gesture." 

"If repeated with the same level of intensity, I think it's going to caution China that their aggression against Taiwan is not going to be welcomed by the European countries," Wu said.

The flags of Taiwan and China fly side by side against the backdrop of a flaxen sky
China views Taiwan as part of its territoryImage: Manuel Augusto Moreno/Getty Images

China, which views the self-ruled island as part of its territory, warned EU officials and politicians against meeting with Wu during his recent trip. The EU does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but pursues what it calls "friendly relations" with its government.

Asked about Wu’s visit, a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters on Friday that they were "not in a position to confirm any official meeting between representatives of the EU institutions and the Taiwanese visitor." 

Would EU stay neutral if the US and China clashed over Taiwan?

The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping says it wants to achieve "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan.  Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently warned, however, that China "will reserve the option of taking all necessary measures," arguing that no other country has a right to "interfere" in the "Taiwan question," according to state media.  

US President Joe Biden has said Taiwan could count on support from US forces in the event of an "unprecedented attack" from China — but what would the European Union do?

A survey published earlier this month by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that the majority of respondents in 11 EU countries would prefer for their country to remain neutral were a conflict to erupt between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan.

For example, 60% of Germans polled favored neutrality, compared with 23% who would prefer for Berlin to support Washington.

Asked about the findings, Wu said: "European countries, for a long time, they are thinking about strategic neutrality in international affairs. But that might change when the reality is rolling along."

"When the international community discusses about the major international principles," Wu said, "I think it's going to be very hard for Europe to say ... 'I don't care'."

Still, Wu described attempts to persuade the European Union to provide more support to Taiwan as "hard work." 

Chinese Military Exercise Targets Taiwan

Taiwan seeks EU investment deal, Brussels says no

Taipei is also pushing to unlock progress on a possible bilateral investment agreement with the European Union. Brussels and Taipei have trade relations independent of Beijing because the island is a separate member of the World Trade Organization.

Wu said he was "very concerned" that a possible EU-Taiwan investment deal was "caught as a hostage" as Brussels mulls a way ahead on a trade and investment agreement with China, dubbed the CAI, which has been stalled since 2021.

"If you look at the linkage  close linkage  in between Taiwan and the EU in the economic sense, I think the EU needs to find an alternative to strengthen the bilateral, economic or trade relations, rather than get bogged down by the CAI," Wu said.

An EU official told DW that there was "no link" between the issues.

European Commission Trade spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer told DW that Taiwan is "an important economic partner in the region," adding that Taipei and Brussels hold regular economic dialogues. 

There has, however, been no formal progress toward a deal since 2015, when the bloc included Taiwan on a list of partners with which it would explore launching negotiations.

Garcia Ferrer made the European Union's current position clear: "Negotiating a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan is currently not on the cards."

A man walks past the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp building
Taiwan manufactures the lion's share of the world's most advanced semiconductorsImage: Walid Berrazeg/Zuma/picture alliance

Taipei won't stand in way of possible chipmaker investment in Germany

According to the European Union, Taiwan produces 90% of the world's most advanced semiconductors. These crucial technologies are vital for everything from car manufacturing to medical devices. Brussels wants to ramp up chip manufacturing within the European Union and in 2022 unveiled plans to free up subsidies for producers.

As the bloc tries to attract chipmakers, the Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC) is considering setting up its first European plant in Germany. 

Asked whether Taipei would seek political gains before green-lighting such a plan, Wu said: "I don't think we have placed any conditions, either in the investment case in the United States or in Japan or in Europe."

"If Europe has provided a very positive incentive and also speaks with the TSMC in a way that would make the TSMC feel comfortable that their investment in Europe is going to produce very positive results, their investment in Europe is certainly not going to be stopped by the government," Wu said.

But Wu went on to stress the importance of relationship building. "When a country is in shortage of computer chips, they will ask Taiwan. 'You should do this and you should do that'," he said. "But they don't seem to be thinking about a broader picture of better relations with Taiwan, economic or otherwise." 

EU's 'one China' policy unchanged

The EU maintains what it calls a "one China policy." The bloc "recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China," a European Commission spokesperson told DW. 

 "We engage with Taiwan — a key like-minded economic and high-tech partner in the region — but always without recognition of statehood," the spokesperson said. 

Edited by: Kate Hairsine