Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific: Relevance and Geopolitical Implications
Author: Huynh Tam Sang
On July 21, 2021, Taiwan NextGen Foundation and 9DASHLINE jointly organized a webinar entitled “Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific: Relevance and Geopolitical Implications”. The event, moderated by Dr. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, Non-Resident Fellow at NextGen and Head of Associates Network at 9DASHLINE, focused on interrogating Taiwan’s role and relevance in the emerging dynamics in the Indo-Pacific. The webinar served as a response to the ongoing reflections on like-minded democracies demonstrating their interest in ensuring that Taiwan remains a secure, stable, and resilient democracy. This inaugural event marked the launch of the webinar series “Transparency, Trust, Taiwan,” co-hosted by the two entities.
The first speaker, Michael Gahler, Member of the European Parliament (Germany-European People’s Party), observed that with the rise of the Indo-Pacific concept, “the European Union attaches more attention to this area and increasing assertiveness of China [therein]”. Expanding on the new, positive momentum in EU-Taiwan relations, Mr. Gahler also underscored the role of the European Parliament’s decision to work on its first-ever stand-alone report on Taiwan in its Foreign Affairs Committee, evaluating the prospects of broadening and deepening cooperation between Brussels and Taipei.
There are at least three reasons for this positive stance. First, the “China factor” has led to concerns within European governments. China’s “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and the perceived lack of transparency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined ties between Beijing and Europe. Second, European countries are increasingly eying cooperation with Taiwan’s high-tech firms, recognizing the importance of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry. Third, Taiwan’s model for combating COVID-19, its commitment to democratic values, progressive society, and responsible engagement with Indo-Pacific countries through the NSP help strengthen the country’s reputation among European countries. Importantly, there appears to be a convergence of interests and concerns between Taiwan and the EU, as both democracies continue to build up their respective Indo-Pacific strategies, the MEP added.
Taiwan’s political elites are cognizant of this new dynamic — and actively seek to capitalize on it. In the words of Dr. Lo Chih-Cheng (羅致政), Member of the Legislative Yuan and Chair of the Legislative Yuan USA Caucus, “any discussions of Indo-Pacific geopolitics would not be comprehensive without considering Taiwan’s role in it.” According to Dr Lo, “Taiwan should be seen as a strategic asset, not a strategic burden” to the world. In his view, broad-ranging support for Taiwan will facilitate the consolidation of the Indo-Pacific concept. With its active engagement in the region, the Tsai administration is simultaneously broadening and deepening its ties with Europe and Southeast Asia, effectively stabilizing Taiwan’s position in the international system.
The European Union is not a monolith, however, and disparate economic and political relations between its member states and China can produce obstacles to pursuing closer ties between the democratic bloc and Taipei. Dr. Justyna Szczudlik, Deputy Head of Research and Head of Asia-Pacific Program and China Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, emphasized the importance of challenging false narratives of European homogeneity when discussing Taiwan’s international ties. The scholar remarked that while “Central Eastern European countries are not as dependent on China economically”, Western member states, such as Germany, might be apprehensive of jeopardizing their lucrative business deals.
Nevertheless, Dr. Szczudlik remained cautiously optimistic as she identified combating disinformation as a potential area of EU-Taiwan cooperation. In responding to points about China’s increasing assertiveness and aggression raised by the previous speakers, she noted that “disinformation is a crucial element for our cooperation with Taiwan, [as] Taiwan is a laboratory for China to [test] new instruments for influencing democratic countries. Chinese disinformation is new in Europe, but not in Taiwan.”
And finally, Ivy Kwek, Research Director at the Malaysian think tank Research for Social Advancement (REFSA) and Visiting Scholar at the National Chengchi University offered a poignant commentary from ASEAN’s perspective. The scholar emphasized the key role of the New Southbound Policy in Taiwan’s Indo-Pacific engagement, highlighting that, “South-East Asian countries really appreciate the fact that Taiwan’s engagement with the region through the NSP focuses on pragmatic cooperation and people-to-people approaches.” Ms. Kwek also acknowledged the complementarity between the EU’s approaches to the region and Taiwan’s NSP. Asserting that “Taiwan cannot engage the [Indo-Pacific] region alone,” Ms. Kwek called for intensifying multilateral cooperation with Taiwan.
Both European and Southeast Asian countries can look to Taiwan in their pursuit of a reliable regional partner. As European actors explore ways to deepen their engagement in the Indo-Pacific, they should consider Taiwan a reliable, democratic partner that can serve as an anchor for developing closer relations with the region. At the same time, ASEAN nations could benefit from an enhanced relationship with Taiwan, which will help in diversifying risk and lessening dependence on Beijing.
The next event in the “Transparency, Trust, Taiwan” series will focus on subnational diplomacy and is scheduled to take place in late August.
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