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Why Western Countries Back Taiwan Despite Their Pro-China Policies

A protester holding a sign on October 20, 2018 in support of Taiwan during a protest ahead of an identity vote in Taipei. (Sam Yeh/ AFP)
Why Western Countries Back Taiwan Despite Their Pro-China Policies
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Over the past four months, officials from two European countries, the European Parliament, and the United States have formed stronger relationships with Taiwan.

Freddy Lim is a member of Taiwan parliament’s foreign relations committee. He believes this is happening because countries can now openly talk with Taiwan. He added, "Before, of course, all countries were having communication with Taiwan, but in the past, it was all under the table."

“Under the table” means the talks were unofficial.

China sees self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as a part of its territory. It has threatened force, if necessary, to bring the island under its rule. Taiwan has diplomatic recognition from just 15 small countries.

Experts say Western countries’ recent dealings serve as a warning to China, Taiwan’s longtime political opponent.

Sean Su is an independent political observer in Taiwan. Su said by working together, these countries have more political ability to negotiate with China.

Other countries are teaming up in case China pushes too hard against Taiwan, protesters in Hong Kong, or the Muslim minority in the Xinjiang area in China. Experts say these are causes where democratic leaders often side with the pushed over the pusher.

Increased diplomatic support

Lithuania agreed in July to permit Taiwan to set up a representative office. China recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and warned of possible other effects. The Czech Republic’s senate president took a representative group of 89 leaders to Taiwan in August.

The European Parliament decided to deepen economic and diplomatic relations with Taiwan last month. A report also raised concerns about China’s use of its military to pressure Taiwan.

State media China Daily reported comments made by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin. Wenbin said the European Parliament’s report violates the understanding of normal international relations as well as the one-China principle. He added that it goes against the agreement made by the EU on the Taiwan question.

Derek Grossman is a senior defense researcher with the U.S.-based Rand Corporation research organization. He said Western leaders have tired of China’s “authoritarian” leanings.

FILE - A soldier holds a Taiwanese flag during a military exercise aimed at defending from an attack from China, Jan. 19, 2021, in Hsinchu County, northern Taiwan.
FILE - A soldier holds a Taiwanese flag during a military exercise aimed at defending from an attack from China, Jan. 19, 2021, in Hsinchu County, northern Taiwan.

Grossman said that countries like Lithuania are joining together “to reject the authoritarian model” in international politics. Talking to Taiwan is one way to show that rejection.

Stephen Nagy is a top research professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo. He said that a sizeable group of countries acting for Taiwan could help head off any conflict.

To keep the peace, countries voicing support for Taiwan have said they plan to uphold their own “One China” policies. This means recognizing Beijing, China, over Taipei, Taiwan.

Threat of Chinese retaliation

China usually does not oppose informal Taiwan-foreign trade and some relations, but it does not like political or military exchanges.

A spokesperson for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Monday Taiwan’s cooperation with other forces and continued ‘independence’ fights were the “root cause” for bad relations. This included sending 700 Chinese airplanes into the Taiwanese air defense identification zone.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said during her five years in office so far that countries that share her “democratic values” should support her.

Some experts say foreign countries have priced in China’s normal anger as they work with Taiwan. Nagy said China’s retaliation depends on the size and influence of the country. Since Lithuania has little economic ties with China, it has more freedom to act.

Grossman said countries like India and Vietnam are ready to back one another economically “to make up the difference” in case of economic retaliation from China. Vietnam and India have spoken out against China over Asian territory claims.

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for Voice of America. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

principle – n. a basic truth or theory: an idea that forms the basis of something

authoritarian adj. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws: not allowing personal freedom

professor n. a teacher especially of the highest rank at a college or university

informal adj. having a friendly and relaxed quality

retaliation v. to do something bad to someone who has hurt you or treated you badly: to get revenge against someone