A group of visiting European Parliament members has told Taiwan that it is not alone in its bid to survive as a democracy in the face of a more assertive China, just as Brussels tries to mend ties with Beijing.
Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament who is the subject of Chinese sanctions, said that Europe shared Taiwan’s democratic principles.
“We came here with a very simple message: Taiwan is not alone,” Glucksmann told a press conference at the end of a high-profile visit to the country. “Taiwan’s democracy is crucial . . . to European long-term interests.”
The delegation, from the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation, marked the first official visit by members of the European Parliament to Taiwan.
Since arriving in Taipei on Wednesday, the delegation has met Taiwanese officials, experts and civil society groups about how best to fight disinformation, a problem that has long plagued the East Asian democracy, without compromising civil and political rights.
The EU has previously cited China as a source of disinformation on Covid-19, while Taiwan has also traced fake news and social media rumours about the virus to Chinese media.
While the parliamentary delegation is wholly independent of the EU’s official foreign policy apparatus, it nonetheless underscores Brussels’ challenge in handling relations with China, coming amid efforts by the bloc to ease tensions with Beijing as it attempts to balance its mass of economic and geopolitical interests.
The EU’s formal policy towards China is a convoluted and seemingly contradictory designation of “co-operation partner, negotiation partner, economic competitor and systemic rival”, underscoring the lack of consensus among the 27 member states.
Regarding Taiwan, EU officials stress that the bloc has been consistent in applying a “One China policy”, but that individual member states have a legitimate interest in developing co-operation with Taipei without recognition of statehood.
Relations between Beijing and Brussels plunged in March after the EU imposed sanctions on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims and the country responded by imposing sanctions on some MEPs, including Glucksmann.
That torpedoed efforts towards the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) a landmark trade deal between the bloc and Beijing that had been the cornerstone of Brussels’ China policy before the sanctions spat.
But in recent weeks EU officials have sought to draw a line under the fallout and find a more constructive tone. A call between Charles Michel, European Council president and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, last month touched on “areas of mutual interest” for the first time since the sanctions dispute, a person briefed on the discussion said.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade if Taipei refuses to submit indefinitely. Over the past year, Beijing has increased air and naval operations close to Taiwan.
On Friday, Andrius Kubilius, a former Lithuanian prime minister and delegation member, said that Taiwan’s situation echoed challenges posed by Russia, which has interfered in countries such as Belarus and Ukraine.