EU Sends First Official Delegation to Taiwan: Supporting Democracy, Countering Disinformation on the Agenda

This week, the EU sent its first official parliamentary delegation to Taiwan. The delegation consisted of seven members of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference, also known as IGNE, along with six other lawmakers hailing from a range of political parties within the European Parliament. In what Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called a “highly significant” three-day visit, the EU delegation praised Taiwan’s thriving democracy and met with various Taiwanese government and civil society stakeholders to learn best practices for combating disinformation. Over the past few months, the EU has shifted towards more comprehensive relations with Taiwan, concurrent with China’s increasing threats against both EU member states and the island it considers its own. 

The delegation’s reception included meetings with Premier Su Tseng-chang and Deputy Foreign Minister Harry Tseng on Wednesday, President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday, and Digital Minister Audrey Tang on Friday. Both sides projected a message of unity, beginning with Taiwanese airline EVA Air shuttling the EU delegation from Paris to Taipei. The delegation called Taiwan a “key partner and democratic ally.” Raphael Glucksmann, the French MEP leading the delegation and chairperson of IGNE, described Taiwan’s democracy as a “treasure” that must be protected. Sarah Wu at Reuters reported on Glucksmann and President Tsai’s solidarity and call for greater cooperation:

“We came here with a very simple, very clear message: You are not alone. Europe is standing with you,” Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament, told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a meeting broadcast live on Facebook.

“Our visit should be considered as an important first step,” said Glucksmann, who is leading the delegation. “But next we need a very concrete agenda of high-level meetings and high-level concrete steps together to build a much stronger EU-Taiwan partnership.”

[…] “We hope to establish a democratic alliance against disinformation,” Tsai told the delegation in the Presidential Office.

“We believe Taiwan and the EU can certainly continue strengthening our partnership in all domains.” [Source]

One major reason for the delegation’s visit was to learn from Taiwan’s experience combating disinformation. In the face of large-scale, state-backed destabilization campaigns originating from China, specifically targeting Taiwanese media and elections, Taiwan has proven to be a remarkable example for the West on how to protect its citizens from disinformation without overly restricting access to information. The EU is keen to replicate Taiwan’s strategies as it faces similar challenges. In June 2020, the EU publicly labeled China as a source of disinformation. Lawrence Chung from the South China Morning Post described the EU delegation’s desire to learn from Taiwan to strengthen its own democracy

“We came here to learn from you, to learn from your capacity for building such a vibrant democracy while being confronted with such a level of threats and interference,” said Glucksmann, a vocal critic of China, who had been barred by Beijing from visiting the mainland.

Glucksmann said Europe is also facing “large-scale actions orchestrated by an authoritarian regime to vandalise European society and weaken its democracy”.

“Your success in building your democracy while being confronted with such threats is good advice for us,” Glucksmann said, adding the delegation could learn from Taiwan’s experience in dealing with this kind of threat and see what tactics can be applied at home.

[…] For her part, Tsai expressed her appreciation for the group’s visit, saying Taiwan is hoping to establish a “democratic alliance against disinformation” as the challenge is a global one.

[…] “Taiwan is also willing to share its experience in combating disinformation with our European friends. This will deepen our partnership and help safeguard the free and democratic way of life we enjoy.” [Source]

In the Diplomat, Staś Butler described the particular lessons Taiwan can share with the EU’s IGNE:

“Dividing our society is the ultimate goal for [China’s] actions,” said Wu Ming-hsuan, co-founder of Doublethink Lab. Wu’s organization is one of several Taiwan-based groups aiming to classify and counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation in Taiwanese society.

“Fortunately, I think that the resistance of the civil society of Taiwan is quite strong. There’s a lot of action being taken by civil society organizations like Taiwan FactCheck Center, or other fact checking communities, volunteer groups, trying to do more,” Wu said. Such groups are working on “not only fact checks, but how to disseminate those fact check results to the general public by using messenger apps, chatbots, or just going directly to the community.”

Alicja Bachulska, a China analyst at the War Studies University in Warsaw, said INGE can learn a lot from Taiwan. “For both geographic and historical reasons, Taiwan’s ties with the PRC can serve as a case study when it comes to understanding Beijing’s approach towards both direct and indirect coercion.”

In her view, INGE “should focus more on understanding Taiwan’s resilience and also learn more about its anti-pandemic measures.” [Source]

Focus Taiwan, Taiwan’s national news agency, highlighted the significance and growth of such close collaboration between Taiwan and the EU:

Commenting on the visiting delegation Wednesday, Executive Director of the European Union Center in Taiwan Marc Cheng (鄭家慶) said that Taiwan-Europe relations have increased in visibility over the past few years due to visiting delegations to and from both sides.

These delegations also reflect the fact that the two sides have grown closer, and as topics of mutual concern between Taiwan and Europe expand in scope the relationship will further deepen over the next few years, Cheng told CNA.

[…] It is incredibly meaningful now that Taiwan and Europe are engaging in official exchanges, Cheng said.

DPP lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said that the visiting delegation shows the EP is unwilling to bow to pressure from China, which has repeatedly warned European countries to refrain from engaging with Taiwan. [Source]

A series of exchanges in October set the stage for the EU’s official visit this week. On October 7, a small delegation of French senators led by Alain Richard, former French Defense Minister and head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, visited Taiwan for a five-day trip. Richard, on his third trip to Taiwan, was given a medal of honor by President Tsai; in his acceptance speech, he called Taiwan a country. A few weeks later, on October 27, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu embarked on a European tour, during which he met openly with lawmakers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania, and covertly with MEPs in Belgium, while securing dozens of memorandums of understanding in a variety of fields. On October 21, the EU parliament passed a non-binding resolution to strengthen connections with Taiwan. The resolution, passed in a landslide vote of 580-26, calls for the EU to adopt sweeping changes: prepare a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan, change the name of its representative office in Taipei to the “European Union Office in Taiwan,” and grant Taiwan observer status in the WHO and Interpol. It is one of 12 resolutions friendly to Taiwan that the EU passed this year. 

The EU’s warming relations with Taiwan coincide with its deteriorating relations with China. In March, the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials for their role in alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang. Beijing responded immediately with counter-sanctions against MEPs, national lawmakers, scholars, think tanks, and EU institutions. The EU Parliament, in turn, froze the ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China. After Lithuania announced in July that it would allow Taiwan to call its office in the capital of Vilnius the “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania,” China imposed trade barriers and both countries recalled their ambassadors in a tense standoff. The EU rallied to Lithuania’s defense in an October 28 joint letter, with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel vowing to “push back” against “threats, political pressure, and coercive measures” from China. 

Beijing has strongly denounced the EU’s overtures to Taiwan. The Global Times mocked European “political clowns” for their “lame roadshow” in Taipei and criticized “Taiwan’s secessionist regional leader Tsai Ing-wen.” As the One-China policy is increasingly tested, the risk of military backlash has grown substantially. In early October, the PLA sent a record-breaking 148 aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Zone within a four-day period, with as many as 56 incursions in a single day. While the US has pushed for Taiwan’s official recognition at the UN, recent Chinese government announcements urging citizens to stockpile food have worried some onlookers that Beijing may be preparing for war

The EU faces a difficult balancing act between supporting Taiwan and not enraging China. Greek MEP Georgios Kyrtsos stated that their delegation visit did not upgrade Taiwan to the level of a state, insisting, “We did not come here to provoke a situation, we came here to send a message that we are supporting a democratic country and developing our economic ties.” (However, his choice of the word “country” might undermine his point.) Andrew Rettman in EUobserver described a similar mindset among other members of the delegation who noted the imperative of cooperation with Taiwan

Speaking to EUobserver from Taipei, Petras Auštrevičius, a Lithuanian liberal MEP on the delegation, said if China was to impose fresh sanctions because of the visit, it would be “a sign of growing Chinese assertiveness and nationalism”.

“If we do not support democracies and don’t cooperate with them we are simply doomed and losing our political orientation. We aren’t changing the status quo [on Taiwan], but talking to like-minded partners,” he said. [Source]

Despite the EU’s warmer relations with Taiwan, China-E.U. cooperation on issues such as climate change and green projects continues unabated. On Thursday, at a side event of the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the International Platform on Sustainable Finance (co-chaired by the EU and China) published a set of standards for defining green projects. As Tang Ziyi and Wang Liwei reported for Caixin Global, the standards are designed to facilitate more cross-border investment in green projects between China and EU nations:

It lists 80 economic activities across six industries that have been defined as green and sustainable by both China and the EU. The six industries are agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply; construction; water supply, and sewage, waste management and remediation activities; as well as transportation and storage. The taxonomy also offers criteria for gauging a project’s contribution to mitigating climate change.

“It is expected to support China-EU green finance cooperation and mobilize cross-border climate financing by lowering the green certification cost for cross-border transactions,” the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said in a statement Thursday. “It could be used as a voluntary reference by market participants when issuing or trading green financial products.”

At the end of 2020, China was the world’s largest issuer of green loans by outstanding value, and it had the second-largest market for green bonds, according to central bank data. However, that was partly due to its loose standards for defining green projects. [Source]


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