Vice-President of the European Parliament Nicola Beer in Taipei.
By Michael Leh
Europe and Taiwan share common values
Taipei. The Vice President of the European Parliament, Nicola Beer (FDP), has made a visit to Taiwan. She was warmly received last week (from July 19 to 21) by President Tsai Ing-wen, the government and Taiwanese MPs. Taiwan is widely isolated diplomatically under pressure from the People’s Republic of China. Taiwanese were all the more grateful for the visit of the European Parliament representative. A first official delegation of European parliamentarians was in Taipei in November 2021. Beer was now in the island republic for the first time at the invitation of Taiwanese MPs.
The program included meetings with Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, Vice Parliament Speaker Tsai Chi-chang, Digital Minister Audrey Tang and the Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (the office for relations with mainland China), Chiu Tai-San. Chiu wrote on Twitter, “We talked about intimidation by Mainland China, Taiwan’s countermeasures and lessons learned from regional conflicts, and expressed hope for increased cooperation in the near future.”
The war against Ukraine is being closely followed in Taiwan
At the presidential palace, Tsai Ing-wen called Beer a “good friend of Taiwan” who has long advocated for Taiwan. Since January 2021, she said, the European Parliament has passed 20 resolutions in support of Taiwan. “I hope,” Tsai said, “that Taiwan and the EU can build an even closer partnership and accelerate progress toward a bilateral investment agreement.” Last year, she said, Taiwanese investment in Europe reached a record high. Taiwan is at the forefront of defending democracy in the face of the spread of authoritarianism, he said.
During Beer’s talks in Taipei, Putin’s war against Ukraine also came up repeatedly. The war of aggression is being closely followed in Taiwan, including the military details. Tsai is eager to increase Taiwan’s defense capability. She has now observed Taiwan’s annual “Han Kuang” military maneuver, which trains to repel a Chinese invasion, for the first time even aboard a Chenggong-class frigate off the coast of northeast Taiwan.
Taiwan is a vibrant democracy
Beer told Tsai that they share common values with Taiwan. And, “I myself come from a divided family in Germany, where we personally felt threatened by authoritarian regimes. So I can very well understand how you feel here in Taiwan in the face of the threat you live with every day.” Taiwan, he said, is a “vibrant, living” democracy, and this must be preserved. Taiwan is also a “strategic, responsible and reliable international partner,” she said. Together, they are committed to peace and stability in the region, she said. “That is why we oppose any provocation or threat to the status quo. We want to continue to have good relations with the People’s Republic of China. However, let me clearly express Europe’s deep and serious concern that China is moving in a direction that could unilaterally change the status quo. This must not happen under any circumstances or pretext,” Beer stressed.
China should refrain from its threatening gestures
Only the Taiwanese people can decide on Taiwan’s future, she said. “We call on the People’s Republic of China to refrain from its threatening gestures,” she said. Taiwan, she said, must be assured “with all its strengths, dignity and potential, that it can develop freely and peacefully.” After meeting with Premier Su Tseng-chang, she declared, “There must be no February 24 in Asia.” And, “It is not enough for Europe to regret afterwards, it must be on the scene early.”
German diplomat Thomas Juergensen of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei also took part in the meetings with Taiwan’s leaders. Juergensen was honored for his service by Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua on July 26. During the ceremony, Juergensen pointed out that since his arrival in Taiwan, annual trade in goods and services between the EU and Taiwan has risen to 73 billion euros, and investment from EU countries in Taiwan has increased by about 37 percent since 2017.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation has an office in Taipei
At a meeting with deputies in the Taiwanese parliament, including representatives of the opposition Kuomintang, Beer invited her counterpart, Vice Parliamentary President Tsai Chi-chang, to Brussels, also on behalf of EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola. Beer, as vice parliamentary president, is also responsible for representing Ms. Metsola in Asia.
Beer also met with the head of the Taipei office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which has close ties to the FDP, Anna Marti. In addition, with Lam Wing-kee, formerly imprisoned in China, the founder of the Hong Kong-based Causeway Bay Books, which has been based in Taiwan since 2019. 20,000-30,000 Hongkongers are now said to live in Taiwan. Among other things, Beer visited the Taiwanese company Macronix International, which produces highly specialized chips and storage media.
Joint press conference at the Foreign Ministry
At a joint press conference with Beer, Foreign Minister Wu said Taiwan is threatened by China: “But with strong support from Europe, we are confident we can meet the challenge.” He said Beer’s visit represented “strong encouragement.” Beer said her visit was taking place at “exactly the right time.” She said it was intended to counter Beijing’s attempt to isolate Taiwan. In light of rising tensions in the region, Europe must act, Beer said, referring to the situation in the China Sea and along the Taiwan Strait.
Foreign Minister Wu not allowed to visit Germany so far
At the press conference, the newspaper „Die Tagespost“ explained in a question to Joseph Wu that he had fortunately been able to visit Brussels, Prague and Bratislava last year. However, a “de facto ban” obviously continues to exist with regard to Germany. Would he, Wu, for example, accept gladly an invitation from a German university or an institution such as the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to give a lecture in Germany or to participate in a discussion? And whether he could elaborate a little on how his visits to Prague and Slovakia came about?
Wu replied: “Since I have been foreign minister, I have not been able to visit Germany. Not because I didn’t want to, but because such a visit needed the agreement of both sides. If the German government allowed me and an institution in Germany invited me, for example, to give a speech or participate in other events, of course I would be very happy.” This issue would have to be coordinated between the two governments, he said. Therefore, he could not say anything more specific about it now.
Direct talks lead to more understanding of Taiwan
As for his visits to Brussels, Prague or Bratislava, Wu further responded to the question of the newspaper „Die Tagespost“ by saying it was part of the background that “more and more European countries understand the differences between democracies and authoritarianism.” European countries that had experienced very harsh authoritarian and communist rule before 1989 understand the struggle of democratic Taiwan and therefore support it, such as the Baltic states. “We really appreciate that and have such a natural affinity,” Wu explained.
Visiting Prague, Bratislava and other European capitals was “wonderful” for him, the Taiwanese foreign minister said. If Europeans allowed him and other senior officials to be “listened to directly,” it would lead to more understanding of Taiwan, he said.
During Beer’s visit, the U.S. destroyer USS Benfold passed through the Taiwan Strait. The Foreign Ministry in Taipei said, “Taiwan understands and supports the freedom of navigation operations conducted by the United States to promote peace and stability in the region.“
This article by Michael Leh, who accompanied Vice President Nicola Beer as a journalist on her visit to Taiwan, was published on 28.7.2022 in the weekly newspaper “Die Tagespost”. We publish here the translation into English with kind permission of the author.