Europe can prevent Taiwan from becoming the next Ukraine – POLITICO
Jonas Parello-Plesner is Executive Director of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
Being the neighbor of an authoritarian regime is dangerous. And Russia’s war in Ukraine has destroyed the last vestiges of naivety about the threat posed by dictators like President Vladimir Putin.
Yet despite this, European leaders continue to ignore the danger Taiwan faces from its neighbour, the People’s Republic of China. Even at the recent NATO summit where the Europeans were stronger than usual in their China strategy, Taiwan remained a taboo word.
But to prevent Taiwan from becoming the next Ukraine, it is high time that NATO and the European Union mobilized to help protect this democracy and its values. They have the power to do it, but they must be prepared.
In terms of value systems, Taiwan and China are night and day. After a decade of leader Xi Jinping’s “Reflecting on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”,” China has become increasingly repressive. Meanwhile, Taiwan has become a beacon of democracy in the region, rating 94 out of 100 in the Freedom House index – higher than most EU members. As Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen declared recently: “Democracy has become a non-negotiable part of our identity.
Like Putin, however, Xi is clear in his ambition: to reunite the homeland – which for him includes Taiwan – by any means necessary and at any cost. In this sense, the Chinese military has increased its spending, expanded its footprint and is trying to neutralize US military force in the region. And Beijing multiplies the provocations, the Chinese warplanes penetrating almost daily in the Taiwanese airspace.
Given a possible invasion, without a doubt, the United States would lead on any military protection of Taiwan. President Joe Biden has been clear about this, respond with an unequivocal “yes” when asked if the United States would come to his defense. Europe, on the other hand, would play a minor role in any military scenario due to the lack of capabilities.
There is, however, more than one way to deter a war – and Europe has a different role to play.
With global democracies in the G7 and beyond, European leaders should signal that any Chinese military aggression would result in strong sanctions, just as they did with Russia. In such a scenario, China would be excluded from the globalization from which it has benefited, and the threat of economic sanctions would resonate more with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party than with their Russian counterparts, since the legitimacy of the party permanently rests on an increase in the standard of living.
For Europe, this means starting a frank conversation with the business world.
Currently, many European companies have withdrawn from Russia, going beyond what is legally required by the sanctions. Most were surprised when Putin launched a full-scale war of aggression, and some, especially in the German business world, still dream of returning to the world of yesterday. However, these companies should instead recognize the new reality and prepare for the future possibility of a military invasion of Taiwan. Contingency planning for this should start now.
The main difference between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a potential war in Taiwan would be the size of the economies involved. Chinese trade flows dwarf those of Russia, which means that the economic repercussions would be enormous, not only for the West, but even more so for China itself, as it still depends on export-led growth. It is therefore even more important to put China on high alert now, so that the threat of economic damage acts as a deterrent.
Would European populations support such an approach? Yes, they would.
The result of the recent global poll that we conducted with Latana revealed that when asked about severing economic ties with China if it were to invade Taiwan, more people were in favor than against in half of the countries surveyed. These countries include many of China’s major trading partners, such as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Germany, and collectively they account for more than 53% of China’s total trade, or 2 .3 trillion.
It’s a clear message of unity that should make Chinese leaders and military planners think twice. European leaders must listen to their people. They should start planning for this scenario and make sure China understands what the consequences of its actions might be.
Getting caught out by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was bad enough, but repeating the mistake would be unforgivable.