The government should explore ways to further its engagement with central and eastern European (CEE) countries by concentrating its diplomatic capital in deepening ties with nations that have proven to be receptive, the Central European Institute of Asian Studies said in a report released on Monday. It should not try “to pry the doors open in countries where they appear to be firmly shut for now,” it said.
The report, titled “Beyond the Dumpling Alliance: Tracking Taiwan’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe,” also points out the importance of Taiwan ensuring that it delivers on promises made to CEE countries within a reasonable time frame. For example, citing a lack of discernible benefit, Lithuania in 2021 withdrew from Beijing’s “17+1” bloc of countries in the region, followed in September last year by Estonia and Latvia, reducing it to “14+1.”
Each CEE state follows its own policy toward Taiwan, with the report categorizing them as “vanguards,” “pragmatists” and “laggards.” The Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia are vanguards for being active in economic and political relations, while Austria and Hungary are pragmatists for being active in economic issues, but not in political relations. The laggards are Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Slovenia, as they display a low level of activity in both areas.
There is a degree of pragmatism in all of the countries when dealing with Taiwan, particularly in regard to “one China” policies, but a distinction has to be made between the intentions of and restrictions placed upon national governments and the comparative freedom enjoyed by parliamentary groups, lawmakers and civic groups, all of whom can help raise awareness about Taiwan, and the potential benefits of developing ties and economic connections.
For example, Poland is listed as a vanguard, and yet the report says that its highly restrictive “one China” policy and reluctance to antagonize Beijing has hindered relations with Taiwan. Nevertheless, a delegation of the Polish-Taiwanese Parliamentary Group in December last year met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to mark the 30th anniversary of friendship between the nations. The report suggests that presidential elections in 2025 in Poland might bring new opportunities for Taiwan-Poland relations.
As for the pragmatists, opposition parties in Hungary are far more open to Taiwan than Hungarian President Victor Orban. Taiwanese representatives also have an effect, with the report praising Representative to Austria Katherine Chang’s (張小月) work in raising awareness of what Taiwan can offer. The recommendation of furthering ties with receptive CEE nations should therefore not be limited to the vanguard states.
At the same time, the government cannot just assume Taiwan can maintain good relations with vanguard states without being proactive. Czech Chamber of Deputies Speaker Marketa Pekarova Adamova is scheduled to visit Taiwan this month. The report said that her trip would be a crucial moment for Czech-Taiwan relations.
However, as much as the government seeks to further ties in Europe, international events and geopolitical undercurrents also play a role. Many CEE states are concerned about Russian aggression, and would be wary of China’s closeness to their powerful neighbor. Estonia and Latvia, categorized as laggards, share a border with Russia, and would be aware of the dangers of angering China, a major power and member of the UN Security Council, should they come under threat from Russia, just as they would be concerned that military action in the Taiwan Strait could distract the US from Europe. There are legitimate reasons for their “laggard” policies.
The government should cultivate ties with receptive states in the region, but also keep its eyes open for opportunities with those currently less receptive, as the dynamics are complex and ever-changing.
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