Relations between the European Union and Taiwan have taken a surprising turn over the past year, with European officials embracing diplomatic cooperation with the self-governed island even as Beijing ramps up its coercive attempts to isolate Taipei. As the EU finds common ground with Taiwan in the field of cybersecurity and resilience, experts say China’s tactics have inadvertently pushed the bloc closer to Taipei.
On paper, Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies appear to be dwindling, with Nicaragua the latest country to switch allegiance to Beijing. Yet in the past year, the island has successfully built up support among democracies worldwide, particularly in deepening diplomatic engagement with Europe – marking an unprecedented shift in EU-Taiwan relations.
This rapid warming of ties can be chalked up to an increasingly belligerent Beijing, whose aggressive influence campaigns have pushed European lawmakers to reconsider Taiwan as a strategic partner in cybersecurity and resilience – much to China’s anger.
China’s ‘Machiavellian’ offensive backfires (in Taiwan’s favour)
Though EU-China relations have long been complex, with a 2019 EU policy paper describing China as “simultaneously a cooperation partner, economic competitor, and systemic rival”, the last two years of the pandemic have seen European views towards China take a turn for the worse.
President Xi Jinping’s increasingly aggressive policy at home and abroad has provoked greater wariness and even outrage in the EU, which has become increasingly aware of the threats from China, particularly in the form of disinformation and influence campaigns.
As the pandemic gathered pace in June 2020, Brussels accused China of running Covid-19 disinformation campaigns inside the European Union – the first time the European Commission publicly named China as a source of disinformation. Later that month, at an EU-China virtual summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also suggested that China was behind a spate of cyberattacks against European hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis.
A wide-ranging report on Chinese influence operations worldwide by France’s Institute for Strategic Research of the École Militaire published in September also examined China’s disinformation operations targeting Sweden. Researchers say that Beijing views the Nordic country as a strategic Trojan Horse through which to infiltrate and destabilise European institutions.
The report referred to China’s means of exerting influence abroad as “Machiavellian”: increasingly resembling tactics employed by Moscow, with a strategy echoing the oft-quoted phrase from The Prince: “It is better to be feared than to be loved.”
Yet these Machiavellian techniques – coupled with Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, human rights violations in Xinjiang, and routine military intimidation of Taiwan – have caused Europe …….