Five games on the world stage in 2022 (3)|Mr. Tregunter

2021.05.12

Recently the Economist has published a cover story describing Taiwan as “the most dangerous place on Earth”. A few days ago, G7 foreign ministers mentioned in a communique the Cross-Strait issue for the first time ever and said they supported Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization. Afterwards, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between the EU and China, which had been approved after seven years of negotiations, was suspended. In addition, France’s Senate unanimously passed an unprecedented resolution calling for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. With Europe finally demonstrating its position on Taiwan, the island has become a focus of global attention. But is Europe really taking side?

The answer to this question lies in two key elements: national defense and trade. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has straightforwardly pointed out that without the US, Europe cannot possibly have security. As with Japan, Germany was defeated in the Second World War. For it to raise its defense budget to merely two percent is a big struggle. According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, until now Germany has had a very comfortable position, surrounded by a basically non-hostile world, but suddenly there is a growing realization that Germany faces new threats. It will take time for Europe to change past arrangements introduced during the comfortable era. All this points to two issues. First, Germany relies on the US to safeguard its national defense and so it has to be on the side of the US, but it is still unable to make greater contributions internationally. Second, other European countries are in the same boat.

The US used to be Europe’s largest trading partner. Last year, however, the EU’s trade volume with China reached 586 billion euros, surpassing the 550 billion euro with the US, and making China the EU’s biggest trading partner. Even though this was attributable to the pandemic last year, China is in any case an important trading partner of Europe.

All eyes are on the Taiwan Strait

This explains why we often find EU getting tough on China while Germany going soft. For example, around the same time European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell Fontelles said Europe was no longer “naive” in the face of communist regimes, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said decoupling from China was wrong.

As the strongest economy in Europe, Germany is supposed to be most capable of uniting other European countries. But being a defeated state during the Second World War, it is under too many restrictions, and so it can only be pragmatic. In this regard, the EU’s and America’s demonstrating their position on Taiwan of late actually amounts to sending a dangerous message. In case of a Cross-Strait war, can Europe be relied on to send troops to the region? The incident in which an Evergreen cargo ship blocked traffic in the Suez Canal shows that it is possible for US aircraft carriers to be stuck in the Mediterranean. Sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa instead will cause delay.

Herbert Raymond McMaster, former US national security advisor, has said that the Taiwan Strait is facing an extremely dangerous time, while Phil Davidson, former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said China might invade Taiwan in six years. For the first time in 52 years, the US and Japan mentioned Taiwan in a joint statement, while G7 has also for the first time underscored the importance of peace across the strait. Now all eyes are on the Taiwan Strait, and there is only reason for that: since Donald Trump started battling with the Chinese Communist Party, the West has come to realize the latter is good at mounting surprise attacks. Drawing global attention can minimize one’s chance of coming under surprise attacks. Europe still needs time to consolidate its policies. Demonstrating its position is a way to buy time before things change, but that also exposes the fact that Europe cannot immediately be of help. The only force that can pack a punch is Russia.

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