Taipei’s EU envoy: As a democracy, we understand Ukraine’s plight

Al Jazeera interviews Remus Li-Kuo Chen, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium.

Remus Li-Kuo Chen says unity between Europe and the US is needed to ensure peace in the Taiwan Strait [Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium]
Remus Li-Kuo Chen says unity between Europe and the US is needed to ensure peace in the Taiwan Strait [Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium]

Taiwan has kicked off military drills, seeking to fortify its borders amid ongoing tensions with China in the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

In recent months, when an official from the United States, European Union and elsewhere has visited Taipei, Beijing has stepped up pressure by launching military exercises nearby.

China has also sought to isolate Taiwan on the international stage, by objecting or vetoing its membership in international groups and events, such as the World Health Organization’s annual assembly in Geneva this year.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February and Beijing and Moscow renewed their “no limits partnership”, defence and policy analysts, as well as some Western leaders, have questioned whether Taiwan could become the next Ukraine.

Al Jazeera spoke to Remus Li-Kuo Chen, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium, about the comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan, and how the European Union and other countries around the world defuse tensions. The EU and its member states do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but Chen’s office is the island’s de-facto embassy in Brussels.

Al Jazeera: What comparisons can you draw between Russia’s war in Ukraine and tensions in the Taiwan Strait?

Remus Li-Kuo Chen: Since the war began, Ukraine and its people have been very brave and courageous fighting for their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

As a democracy also guarding our borders, we understand the plight of the Ukrainian people.

In the Taiwan Strait, our democracy is experiencing serious threats in the form of economic coercion and military intervention from our neighbour China. There is an aim to divide our society, and this is something we are very worried about.

But the situation in Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait demonstrate that we have to continue to fight together with like-minded allies in order to uphold the rule-based international order and stand up to authoritarian regimes.

Al Jazeera: China has sent an envoy to travel through the EU, Ukraine and Russia. What do you think about Beijing’s new attempts at mediation?

Chen: Peace is something only the people of Ukraine can make a decision about. Over the past year, many countries, analysts, former world leaders have put forward thoughts and proposals on how this war could come to an end. But the ultimate decision about a peace proposal comes down to Ukraine and how the country sees its future after the war.

Al Jazeera: The EU appears mostly united on supporting Ukraine. Is the bloc also in step on Taiwan? French President Emmanuel Macron was recently accused of playing into Beijing’s hands by suggesting Europe should avoid involvement in any confrontation between China and the island.

Chen: The most recent example which displayed EU unity towards Taiwan and its position towards China was European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s speech. That speech was a message to the world that the EU is recalibrating their strategy on how to deal with China and define their future relationship.

From our end, it is important that this EU-China policy ensures security and peace in the Taiwan Strait because this strait is actually the place where 40 percent of international trade takes place. It’s actually important for not just the EU but the world to ensure no conflict breaks out in this strait.

Regarding the comments made by some EU officials while visiting China, I think is not necessarily the correct interpretation because the government of China has a knack of putting words and thoughts in the visiting leader’s mouth.

We have to be very careful while trying to understand the real intentions of the visiting leaders, their statements and actions while on Chinese soil and fact-check everything before making conclusions.

Al Jazeera: How have relations between Europe and Taiwan evolved in recent years? Do you see trade deals being finalised?

Chen: In recent years, we have seen positive momentum in Taiwan’s relations with the EU, especially against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and a post-pandemic economy era.

The investment from Taiwan to the EU from 2016 to 2023 has increased 5.5 times, more than the same period in the previous seven years.

There is a lot of interest from companies in Taiwan to open factories in the EU. Recently, one of Taiwan’s leading companies in manufacturing said that they are going to invest 2 billion euros [$2.15bn] in Dunkirk, France, to open a lithium ceramic battery factory. And the EU is interested in semiconductors Taiwan produces, for example.

Also on the global front, a US-Taiwan trade initiative is ongoing. Talks with Canada and other countries have also begun, which has been showing our European counterparts that we are a solid ground for trade and investments.

It’s only a matter of time for the EU and Taiwan to create pathways which will lead to a trade deal.

Al Jazeera: After the pandemic, cooperation in healthcare is a priority. The World Health Assembly begins in Geneva this week, but Taiwan hasn’t been invited. How do you feel about this?

Chen: Taiwan has not been invited as an observer to the annual World Health Assembly event in Geneva, Switzerland, and we definitely want to continue to get the support from the international community.

In a post-pandemic era where healthcare is of primary importance, it is important for the international community to rely on each other to share public health information, medical technology and supplies and also vaccines. Why should 23.5 million people in Taiwan be an exception to losing these health rights? We held demonstrations last year and will do the same this year across the globe to ensure we are invited to the assembly as well.

Al Jazeera: You spent many years in the US as a part of Taiwan’s foreign service. How do you characterise that experience compared with your European role now?

Chen: In my 30 years of experience in the foreign service of Taiwan, I’m delighted to see that when it comes to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and peace, the EU and the US share common values.

I feel a strong transatlantic partnership between the EU and the US will benefit Taiwan. To ensure there is peace in the Taiwan Strait, unity between Europe and the US is needed, and while both have been proactive in showing their support to Taiwan, differences in how they display solidarity does exist.

But they’re aware that a collective and integrated approach is what will send a powerful message of deterrence to China.

Source: Al Jazeera