President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) pro-China stance has decreased Taiwan’s visibility in Europe and undermined its sovereignty, a Danish supporter of Taiwanese democracy said, adding that Taipei should counter moves by Beijing to subordinate its status.
“To my knowledge, I don’t think Taiwan is mentioned [in Europe] that much as before,” said Michael Danielsen, chairman of the Copenhagen-based Taiwan Corner, a non-governmental organization that supports democracy in Taiwan as well as Taiwan’s right to self-determination and membership in all international organizations.
“This pro-China policy is making Taiwan invisible and is reducing your sovereignty,” Danielsen told the Taipei Times in an interview on Monday.
He cited as an example the format under which Taiwan attends the plenary session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) since 2009, which has to be renewed every year with Beijing’s consent.
This just shows how Taiwan has “lowered its own sovereignty,” he said.
“How can a country like Taiwan accept an annual veto from China to be a member [of the WHA meetings]? What kind of signal does Taiwan send to European politicians when they do that? It is sending a signal that it is subordinate to China,” he said.
Danielsen recently brought attention to the change in Denmark’s “one China” policy when he revealed that Taiwan is listed as part of China, together with the national flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and a map showing that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, on the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web Site.
“That violates Denmark’s one China policy,” he said. “It’s obvious, even elementary schoolchildren can see that it is a violation of Denmark’s foreign policy on one China.”
A majority of countries in Europe follow a one China policy, which means they recognize China and that one China refers to the PRC, he said.
“That’s it. Nothing else. They don’t even mention Taiwan in their one China policy,” he added.
Although the Danish foreign ministry officially stated that there is no change in its one China policy and he personally has not seen any changes in Denmark and Taiwan’s relationship, “there must have been some evaluation and they have approved it,” he said.
“It’s not a Facebook [page] or Twitter, or a blog. It’s an official Web site of the ministry. You just can’t put anything on the Web site that violates Danish one China policy,” he added.
He said he did not know who was behind the change and is waiting for the ministry’s reply to his inquiry into underlying reasons for that, but he saw that as one example that “financial investment from China may have an impact on Danish foreign policy.”
Denmark has a good relationship with China, with both countries investing in each other, but a line should be drawn to uphold democratic values, he said.
If the change is to test Denmark’s one China policy, “it’s very important that Taiwan should react,” he said.
“Someone is testing your sovereignty. You need to protect your sovereignty, especially when you have such a close relationship with China,” Danielsen said.
Asked if he thinks that other countries in Europe would follow suit, Danielsen said: “Time is not on Taiwan’s side. Definitely not.”
“I would say that Taiwan’s time is limited, because China’s lobby in the European Parliament is getting much stronger. I know positively that some politicians feel it’s difficult to arrange seminars or activities related to Taiwan, because Chinese lobbyists will be there immediately. There is pressure from China on European politicians,” he said.
Danielsen said from the conversations he had with officials that European parliamentarians encounter difficulties in organizing Taiwan-related events.
“They tell me that they have difficulties, that they receive some pressure when they start doing it. That pressure they tell me is increasing,” he said.
In this environment where China’s power is growing, while Taiwan’s visibility in the world is decreasing, Taiwan needs to speak out to protect its sovereignty and portray the nation in a way that can differentiate it from China in the international community, Danielsen said.
When Taiwan’s representative office in Denmark portrays Taiwan, “it portrays it like it is Chinese,” with Chinese music, cultural activities and calligraphy, and so on, he said.
“Although it is part of Taiwan’s history, if you really want to brand Taiwan and make it different, why not focus on how wonderful Taiwan’s democracy is? Why not focus on technology and innovation instead of focusing on China?” he asked.
Danielsen said he began to explore Taiwan’s history in 1997 after a friend from Taiwan told him that he does not celebrate the Chinese New Year because he is Taiwanese.
“The next day, I bought my first book about Taiwan and started reading it,” he said. “I found that Taiwan has been unjustly treated and that has to be corrected.”
Having observed the development of Taiwan for so many years, Danielsen said he found it encouraging to see young people in Taiwan come out to talk about politics during the Sunflower movement protests.
“A lot of people have argued that young people are apolitical, but you cannot say that any longer. You cannot say that there is only a minority worried about Taiwan. It’s not a small minority worried about cross-strait relations,” he said.
Danielsen disagreed with the view held by some people in Taiwan that the movement has disturbed social order.
“They are not creating social disorder. Polarization of the political scene here is causing the social disorder,” he said.
“Taiwan’s politics is too polarized,” he said.
Danielsen said he really hoped that people in Taiwan would go out, engage with political groups and talk politics with other people.
He added that people should demand that politicians stop polarizing poltiics.
If Taiwanese politicians can sit down and agree on how to protect the nation’s sovereignty, freedom of speech and democracy, Taiwan can have a closer relationship with China while keeping its autonomy and de facto independence, Danielsen said.
“Now you are playing each other out, playing against each other. That’s not healthy,” he added.