EU foreign policy chief decries China’s responses to Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip
In his first significant public remarks on the mounting crisis in the Taiwan Strait, the European Union’s chief diplomat described China’s firing of ballistic missiles over Taiwan and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone as “highly worrying developments that lead to destabilisation and risk escalation”.
Speaking at the Asean Regional Forum in Cambodia, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that “nobody should unilaterally change the status quo by force”.
“We need to resolve cross-strait differences by peaceful means,” he added.
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Borrell called on “all parties to remain calm, to exercise restraint, to act with transparency and to maintain open lines of communication to prevent any miscalculations that could lead to tragic consequences”, reflecting concerns in Europe that the situation could spiral further.
Borrell’s address to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations came amid an escalating geopolitical crisis that began when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan despite repeated warnings from Beijing.
Beijing regards Taiwan, a self-governing island with 23 million residents, as a rogue province that will eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
EU officials have, until now, pointed to a Group of 7 statement Borrell signed on Wednesday as representative of Brussels’ position.
“There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally,” read the statement from the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the US and the EU.
Privately, some EU officials expressed reluctance to get involved in a spat that they see only affecting Europe indirectly.
Borrell’s remarks on Friday closely mirrored the G7 statement, but also made clear that the EU “has a clear interest in the preservation of peace and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait”.
“That is why I encourage and support active progress in the Asean-led process towards an effective, substantive and legally binding code of conduct for this maritime area, respectful of the interests of third parties,” Borrell said.
Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday night and met with officials, including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, before flying out on Wednesday afternoon. The stop was part of an Asian tour, including Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, and immediately drew the ire of Beijing, which had warned Pelosi against making the trip.
The People’s Liberation Army launched live military exercises at locations surrounding Taiwan on Thursday, and the exercises are expected to continue until Sunday.
It has fired ballistic missiles directly over Taiwan and sent drones over the airspace of Quemoy, Taiwan-controlled islands close to the mainland that are also known as the Kinmen.
“We observe an increased militarisation and destabilising actions. This threatens freedom of navigation and overflight and can affect international peace and security,” Borrell said.
The fallout in US-China relations continued on Friday, with Beijing imposing sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family, and cancelling or postponing a series of dialogues with Washington.
The Chinese foreign ministry announced the cancellation of dialogues between Chinese and US military commanders, working meetings of Chinese and US defence ministries and a consultation mechanism on maritime military safety.
The ministry also said that cooperation on repatriating illegal immigrants, criminal justice assistance, cross-border crimes, narcotics and climate change would be suspended.
Any pausing of climate change dialogue would be viewed with particular anxiety in Brussels, which has worked to maintain these contacts with Chinese counterparts even as the broader EU-China relationship has worsened.
While the EU has severe disagreements with Beijing concerning numerous human rights and market access issues, it regards cooperation with China on climate as a priority.
Speaking a day earlier in Cambodia with Asean foreign ministers, Borrell did not mention the situation in Taiwan at all, reflecting a reluctance to let the situation overshadow Brussels’ relations with countries in the region.
But his latest remarks will not go unnoticed in Beijing, which has delivered a series of stinging rebukes to the signatories of the G7 statement.
“What is evil? What is shameless? If anyone out there has no idea of what evil and shamelessness are, just take a look at the statement of foreign ministers of G7 and the European Union, which provides more than enough examples for both in the real world,” the Chinese mission to the EU responded.
Beijing-based envoys from the EU, France, Germany and Italy were summoned to the Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday for a dressing-down over the statement.
On the same day, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cancelled a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi, another signatory, due to take place in Cambodia.
Analysts said that China’s blowback to Pelosi’s trip, as well as the G7 statement which defended her right to visit Taiwan, would make it hard to foresee a return to business as usual.
“With the German presidency coordinated G7 statement denounced as ‘ugly’, ‘shameless’ and ‘evil’, it will be difficult to imagine a return to more productive/cooperative relations in the near-term,” Mikko Huotari, executive director at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, posted on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.
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