Europe’s Growing Interest in Taiwan and the Debates on Status Quo

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Before and after the visit of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States (US) House of Representatives to Taiwan, there is an issue that US officials often emphasize in order to appease China. The issue is that they have not created a status quo in Taiwan from a legal point of view.  However, we can talk about a two-way status quo change here. First, the US has begun to change the status quo regarding Taiwan politically. What is even more interesting is that it imposes these conditions on China. More precisely, China is forced to accept (even though ostensibly and reluctantly) these new conditions created by the US. China, on the other hand, is creating a new situation militarily in the region. More clearly, Beijing has begun to change the military-security conditions of the region with its successive military exercises around Taiwan.[1]

Both the US and China are trying to create new customs (rules of conduct) regarding Taiwan politically and militarily. Due to this new (de facto) status quo, the European powers are taking a position again on the Taiwan issue. In fact, Europe’s “de facto” relations with Taiwan and the visits of European parliamentary delegations to the island have become frequent over the past two years. In this sense, there is a clear support-encouragement of the US for its European allies to visit Taiwan. Under the influence of this, before Pelosi, parliamentary groups from countries such as the European Union (EU), France, Czech Republic and Slovakia visited Taiwan at different dates and different intervals. The interest shown to the island by European delegations in the last 3 years has led to China’s reaction, and in particular, Lithuania’s open support for Taiwan has deepened China’s anger.

The visit of a parliamentary delegation from Lithuania to Taiwan a week after Pelosi’s visit was an indication that a new political status quo regarding the island was beginning to form. Now, European states, encouraged by Pelosi’s visit, are further intensifying their political relations with Taiwan. This political cooperation ground could pave the way for economic and military cooperation between Europe and Taiwan in the future. As a matter of fact, it was decided that a delegation consisting of members of the German Parliament would visit Taiwan in October.[2] As in the case of Germany, a delegation from the UK is expected to visit Taiwan by the end of this year. In support of the US rhetoric that “there is no change in the status quo of Taiwan,” European powers, for example, Germany, have reiterated its commitment to the China’s “One China” principle.[3]  German Foreign Ministry Spokesman Christofer Berger said that “Nothing has changed here (with this visit), and this has been also clearly stated by the US administration.”[4] This statement has been a sign that European powers are encouraged by Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and would visit the island more.

Germany plans to visit the island to support Taiwan, claiming that the US is not creating any new situation, but that China is threatening the status quo with its exercises here. In short, by creating the perception that China is “acting provocatively,” the US has been able to get the European powers to give more support to Taiwan. In this sense, Pelosi’s visit has been a turning point. This critical threshold has been exceeded. Now, based on this custom, other European countries will also visit the island to support Taiwan and will be able to establish political, economic and, if necessary, military cooperation.

What Could the Political Contacts of Europe with Taiwan Lead to?

First, China may impose secondary economic sanctions on European countries, as in the case of Lithuania.  Last year, China imposed secondary sanctions on Vilnius after Taiwan opened a diplomatic office in Lithuania. Thus, an embargo was imposed on the sale of Lithuanian-based products to China, and no country in Europe could sell products in which Lithuania was involved in the supply chain to China. In short, Beijing holds the trump card of economic sanctions against European countries. European economies, on the other hand, are highly dependent on China. Therefore, they may be calculating that the political relations developed with Taiwan in the “de facto” sense will be more costly for them economically.

After the crisis with Lithuania, France last year called for the establishment of new mechanisms within the EU that could prevent China’s economic sanctions. If these practices of China are directed towards countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, the economic crisis of Europe may become inextricable. To overcome the US secondary sanctions on Iran, Europe had established mechanisms such as INSTEX. It may not be possible to overcome the possible sanctions that China will impose on European states through such mechanisms. It is not easy to separate the EU economy and production chains from each other, therefore, Europe as a whole will be affected by these sanctions of China.

Second, political relations with Taiwan will also bring military-security cooperation. This could lead Europe to military confrontation with China. For instance, in last May and June, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that lessons should be learned from the example of Ukraine and Taiwan should already be given military assistance, expressing that Taiwan should be defended against China.[5] With the inclusion of China in the new security concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it was predicted that Europe would be more and closely interested with the “China threat”. After Pelosi’s visit, the G7 countries condemned China’s exercises that endanger the security of the Taiwan Strait and called on it not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region.[6]

One of the countries that has taken a decisive stance has been Germany. On August 2, 2022, the day Pelosi landed in Taiwan, Germany announced that it would help Taiwan if China attacked.[7] In this context, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made the following statement:[8]

We do not accept when international law is broken and a larger neighbour attacks its smaller neighbour in violation of international law and that of course also applies to China.

This attitude shows Germany’s support for the US to prevent a war breaking out in Taiwan. Due to the escalation of tensions and the emergence of the risk of conflict, Germany has tried to deter China by hinting that it could support the US if it was necessary.  A day after the visit, with the risk of war reduced, Germany has called for de-escalation in the Taiwan Strait and stressed its commitment to a “One China” policy.[9]

The reason for this step back of Germany is that it does not want to jeopardize its economic relations with China. However, what is certain is this: European states, especially Germany, France, and Britain, encouraged by Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, will continue to improve their political relations with Taiwan in the future. A step further of this is that Europe to start providing military assistance to Taiwan. This will lead to NATO’s focus on the Indo-Pacific and the “Chinese threat.”  The US thinks that the costs related to Taiwan should be shared with Europe and wants to distribute the burden on it.  Europe, on the other hand, may not be able to afford military cooperation with Taiwan due to its economic dependence on China.

Thirdly, and finally, the political relations developed by the US and its European allies with Taiwan in a “de facto” sense led China to increase its military activities in and around the Taiwan Strait and create new “de facto” situations in the Security field.  If the European powers extend their support for Taiwan to the military field, this will mean a fundamental change in the current legal conditions (rebus sic stantibus). By making such a claim, China may seek to unite with the island by resorting to extraordinary measures and the use of force.

More clearly, China may claim that the world states have violated the “one-China principle” approved by the United Nations (UN) resolution 2758 in 1971, creating a new situation and therefore bringing about a fundamental change in the resolution they adhere to. The application of this principle, which is related to the law of international treaties, to UN resolutions is another subject of discussion. If we proceed from the fact that UN resolutions are binding (erga omnes), China can argue that there has been a fundamental change in the commitment of the world states to the principle of “one China.” By suggesting the existence of such a danger, China may announce that it will take the path of unification with Taiwan. China may interpret this operation as a move to maintain the current status quo or to take extraordinary measures in the face of changing conditions.

[1] “China Shifts the Military Status Quo on Taiwan After Pelosi Visit”, Washington Post,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[2] “German Delegation To Visit Taiwan In October Despite Threat Of Chinese Retaliation: Report”, Republic World,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[3] “Germany Calls for de-escalation in Taiwan Strait”, AA,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Truss Urges Allies to ‘Learn Lessons from Ukraine’ and Give Taiwan More Support”, Independent,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[6] “G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Preserving Peace and Stability Across the Taiwan Strait”, EEAS,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[7] “Germany Promises to Help Taiwan if China Attacks”, RT,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[8] “China Issues Threatening Warning to Germany After Support for US Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan”, Express,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

[9] “Germany Calls for de-escalation in Taiwan Strait”, AA,, (Date of Accession: 15.08.2022).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.