With many European countries reshaping their policies toward the Indo-Pacific region to counteract China’s aggressive expansionism, Taiwan could be more active on the global stage by fortifying ties with its partners.
Some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members, including former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), have been touting the idea that the government should prioritize cross-strait relations over other diplomatic relations. They have said that only when cross-strait relations improve can Taiwan expand diplomatic and economic ties with other countries.
That might have been be true decades ago when many other countries could not even tell Taiwan and China apart, but the world order has changed.
Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye’s (盧沙野) attempt to pressure French Senator Alain Richard into dropping his plan to visit Taiwan has backfired, sparking more resentment toward the Chinese government, as happened when it was found that Beijing bullied Czech officials over their affinity with Taiwan.
With US warships continuously transiting the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, France last month sent its SNA Emeraude nuclear submarine, accompanied by support ship the BSAM Seine, to transit the South China Sea, with the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and a German frigate expected to follow in coming months.
Appealing to freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order, the maritime powers’ deployments signal their attempts to shape a multilateral network to prevent China’s expansionism from growing wilder and affecting their interests.
With its strategic location on the first island chain, Taiwan should boost its cooperation with foreign forces by sharing logistics resources and intelligence about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. That might help with the government’s indigenous submarine development program, which needs to meet a tight schedule, having to deliver its first submarine by 2025.
Among major European powers, the UK appears to be working more steadily to expand its influence in Asia after its exit from the EU. The UK last month applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc led mainly by Australia and Japan. The move was interpreted by the government as a positive development, as it means that the bloc would consider new applicants.
“Much of the UK’s trade with Asia depends on shipping that goes through a range of Indo-Pacific choke points. Preserving freedom of navigation is therefore essential to the UK’s national interests. We already work closely with regional partners and will do more through persistent engagement by our armed forces and our wider security capacity-building,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as saying in a policy paper published on Tuesday.
British Representative to Taiwan John Dennis, in a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) on Thursday, also highlighted London’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, and its goals of investing in science and technology to tackle climate change and other global challenges with like-minded partners.
The meeting occurred after the British Office Taipei earlier this month joined Japanese and US envoys to cohost events related to disaster management held under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework in Taiwan.
While Western countries might not lavish attention on Taiwan if they were not threatened by China’s aggression, Taiwan can use the opportunity to leverage its advantages and expand its participation in international affairs, ranging from security, trade and health to technological and environmental issues.
However, global participation should be predicated on healthy internal governance. When the government is still struggling with its energy and water policies, it is questionable whether it can convince others that Taiwan is a reliable partner.
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