On June 22, Lithuania became the first country in the EU to announce that it would donate COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan. Its shipment of 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Taiwan on Saturday last week, two months ahead of its due date. On July 16, Slovakia announced it would donate 10,000 vaccine doses to Taiwan, and is planning to send a large delegation here next month. On Monday last week, the Czech Cabinet followed suit by announcing a donation of 30,000 doses to Taiwan.
In addition to being EU member states, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have their Cold War history in common. These countries existed within a communist-ruled region of eastern Europe, either occupied or controlled by the Soviet Union. Now that these countries are stepping forward to help Taiwan, this opportunity should be seized to bolster ties with them.
Some countries that lay within Soviet-controlled eastern Europe shared borders with European democracies. They had long been nurtured by Western culture and were no strangers to democracy. Although they were placed under communist control at the end of World War II, their Soviet-supported regimes were unpopular.
In the 1990s, under the tide of revolutions in eastern European countries, followed by a process of decommunization, communist rule and planned economies were abandoned, giving way to democratic governance and free economies. The pain and cost of the transition involved in this political and economic change led the people of these countries to cherish the democracy they now have all the more. They are often more committed than the citizens of western European democracies in their opposition to authoritarian rule and their determination to never turn back.
Lithuania’s engagement with Taiwan shows how a small country with a small population can nonetheless refuse to bend under the pressure exerted by major powers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week announced that it would establish a Taiwanese representative office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. This is to be our first representative office in Europe to be established under the name of Taiwan, and the first Taiwanese representative office to be established in a country that has diplomatic relations with China.
After establishing an office in Slovakia in 2003, it is an important diplomatic achievement for Taiwan to open another representative office in Europe 18 years later. Moreover, the establishment of a new presence in the name of Taiwan, free from the shackles of “one China,” is an example for other countries that are willing to engage with us in the same way.
Pressure from China has forced Taiwan to keep a low profile when negotiating diplomatic breakthroughs with other countries. However, even before Taiwan announced the establishment of the new office, Lithuania said in March that it planned to establish a representative office in Taiwan with a view to expanding relations.
By approving the offices in each other’s countries, Lithuania has refused to be influenced by China, and it has also withdrawn from the Beijing-led “17+1” regional cooperation mechanism with central and eastern European countries.
These decisions show the international community how determined a small country can be when it refuses to be intimidated or tempted by Beijing’s sticks and carrots. When Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis announced his country’s vaccine donation to Taiwan on June 22, he said that “freedom-loving people should look out for each other.”
Although Lithuania has diplomatic relations with China, it has left no doubt about its intention to move closer to Taiwan while keeping its distance from China.
In his July 19 column in British newspaper the Times, Edward Lucas praised Lithuania for leading the way in standing up to China and its dictatorship, saying that Lithuania deserves more substantial support from its allies in the liberal democratic world. Lithuania’s image as a country that refuses to back down has put it in the international spotlight, winning geopolitical support from democratic countries as it faces threats from Russia.
The Czech Republic, another country that was east of the Iron Curtain, is also seeking to engage with Taiwan. Rejecting Beijing’s threats, Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil led an 89-member delegation to Taiwan in August last year to initiate substantial cooperation with the nation. Vystrcil’s speech at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on Sept. 1 last year — in which he declared in Mandarin: “I am a Taiwanese” — was moving for government and opposition lawmakers alike, and inspired a profound sense of democratic friendship.
By his actions, Vystrcil expressed his commitment to safeguarding democracy. His predecessor as Czech Senate president, Jaroslav Kubera, who was friendly to Taiwan, died suddenly on Jan. 20 last year, on the eve of his planned visit to Taiwan. His widow then revealed that the Chinese embassy in the Czech Republic had sent Kubera a letter warning him to cancel his Taiwan visit. Just half a year later, his successor fulfilled Kubera’s wish by leading a delegation to Taiwan.
This sequence of events reflects the collective atmosphere of antipathy toward Beijing in Czech society, which even the China-friendly Czech government finds difficult to defy. The Czech Senate election in October last year was an overwhelming victory for the then-opposition camp, to which Vystrcil belongs, reinforcing its dominance in the upper house, and the Czech Cabinet’s decision to donate vaccines to Taiwan is an indication of where that nation’s politics are headed.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) reacted to Vystrcil’s support for Taiwan by calling it an attempt to turn against the 1.4 billion Chinese people and saying that Vystrcil would “pay a heavy price.” Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova said that her country could not accept China’s threat against the Czech Republic and that Slovakia would stand by its neighbor.
The two countries, which were united in a single Czechoslovakia until their peaceful separation in 1993, can truly be called brother nations. Slovakia has followed in the Czech Republic’s Taiwan-friendly footsteps by announcing that it would donate vaccines to Taiwan. In central and eastern Europe, China’s frequent diplomatic coercion of EU countries had the unintended effect of reawakening dark memories of communist rule, except that the Soviet “Big Brother” has been replaced by China’s “wolf warriors.”
Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are giving Taiwan vaccines in return for providing them with masks and other medical supplies last year. The donations in both directions might seem limited, but this “virtuous cycle” has not only warmed hearts in each nation, but also shows that these former communist countries of eastern Europe are looking toward the Indo-Pacific region in search of alliances with democratic partners.
It was 22 years ago that Taiwan established diplomatic relations with Macedonia, now called North Macedonia, which lies in the same region. Those ties ended before three years had passed. Now that a new strategic space is opening up in Europe, these former communist countries are of key importance. If Taiwan wants to play an international role and stand straight and tall in the face of China, it should put more effort into studying eastern Europe.
Translated by Julian Clegg
For China observers, especially those in Taiwan, the past decade has brought awareness of an increasing obsession by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with control. It seeks to control not simply national policy, but all aspects of its citizens’ lives. Not a week passes without some new aspect of Chinese life being brought under CCP control. This forces obvious questions: Why this obsession? And what is driving it? When any one-party state, which already controls government, yet seeks to expand and tighten that control, it bodes ill. With a country the size of China, it bodes ill for Taiwan, Asia and the
Taiwan is now entering a period of maximum danger from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) due to an accelerating Chinese military challenge now emboldened by a shocking dive in American strategic credibility occasioned by its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan. This means there is a much higher chance that in the next one to three years CCP leader Xi Jinping (習近平) may order the PLA to invade Taiwan because he believes the PLA can win and that the Americans can be dissuaded from coming to Taiwan’s aid in time. It is still possible for Taiwan and Washington
Another year, and another UN General Assembly is convening without Taiwan. Today marks the opening of the assembly’s 76th session at the UN headquarters in New York City, with the option to attend remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which once again promises to be its main focus under the theme “Building resilience through hope.” As they do every year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and overseas compatriot groups are organizing campaigns to call for Taiwan’s participation in the global body. However, unlike previous years, Taiwan seems to be riding a higher wave of support than usual. The pandemic has exposed countless shortcomings
On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a news conference via video link to announce a major strategic defense partnership, dubbed “AUKUS.” In an indication of the sensitivity and strategic weight attached to the pact, discussions were kept under wraps, with the announcement taking even seasoned military analysts by surprise. AUKUS represents a significant escalation of the transatlantic strategic tilt to the Indo-Pacific and should bring wider security benefits to the region, including Taiwan. At the forefront of the trilateral partnership is a bold plan to transfer highly sensitive US and