When the EU-China summit was held in The Hague on Dec. 8, the international media focused primarily on the outcome in terms of the arms embargo issue -- that the EU did not lift the embargo at this time, but gave a signal that it might do so on a future occasion.
The EU has indicated it is reviewing its policy on the basis of three criteria -- China's human-rights record, the impact on tension in the Taiwan Strait and the as yet incomplete EU code of conduct on arms exports.
However, another matter virtually escaped attention. On the Taiwan issue, the EU expressed its hope for "a peaceful resolution through constructive dialogue." The EU position, therefore, is that China enter into a constructive dialogue with Taiwan, no pre-conditions, no pre-determined outcome, no artificial clinging to a nebulous "status quo."
The EU did do a ritualistic reaffirmation of its continued adherence to the "one China" policy -- meaning that it recognizes Beijing as the government of China, period, with no further pronouncements on Taiwan's status.
The phrasing represents a subtle move on the part of the EU to express itself on an issue that has been dominated by the uneasy Taiwan-US-China relationship. During the past decade, Europe has significantly increased its trade relations with both China and Taiwan, leading to an increasing awareness of the prickly political situation between the two.
Also, the increasing openness of Taiwanese society after the political transformation of the late 1980s and early 1990s has led to an increase in contacts between European academia and political circles -- such as the European Parliament -- and an appreciation on the European side of the position of the Taiwanese democratic movement which brought about democracy and an increase in Taiwanese consciousness. A telling recent headline in De Volkskrant, a major Dutch newspaper, said: "Taiwanese increasingly vote Taiwanese."
All this does not mean that this has become a major issue on the European political scene, but it does mean an increasing assertiveness by Europe to use its significant political weight to help resolve conflicts around the world.
The message from Brussels to Beijing is thus clear: a constructive dialogue is preferable. But what is the reality?
The administration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has repeatedly indicated its willingness to enter into a dialogue with China, but from the Chinese side there are only military threats, intimidation with some 600 missiles and virulent attempts to isolate Taiwan internationally.
The "anti-secession law" recently proposed by Beijing is not helping matters either. It will lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and is certainly not contributing to a dialogue of any kind.
The EU would thus do well to express its deep concern about this unilateral attempt by China to have its way on this issue. Certainly, the new Chinese law should be an indication to the EU that any relaxation of its arms embargo against China is helping the one-party authoritarian bully on the block to intimidate one of Asia's most vibrant and dynamic democracies.
Europe prides itself on its own long history of democracy and has stated it supports the growth of democracy around the world. This is an opportunity to show it is serious in its resolve to stand on the side of a blossoming democracy and oppose a dictatorship and regional threat reminiscent of the dark days of pre-World War II Europe.