European foreign policy officials sought to present a tough stance against China’s threats over self-ruled Taiwan on Friday, after comments by French President Emmanuel Macron drew a backlash for being perceived to be weak.
China in recent days has held intense military drills around Taiwan, which it claims as its own, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, addressing the issue at a press conference in Beijing alongside her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang, said any attempt by China to control Taiwan would be unacceptable and would have serious repercussions for Europe.
EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell echoed her remarks in a statement prepared for a speech due to be delivered in Beijing at the Center for China and Globalization think tank on Friday that had to be cancelled due to him catching COVID-19.
“A military escalation in the Taiwan Strait, through which … 50% of world trade goes every day, would be a horror scenario for the entire world,” said Baerbock, adding it would have “inevitable repercussions” for European interests.
In interviews published after his trip to China last week, which was meant to showcase European unity on China policy, Macron cautioned against being drawn into a crisis over Taiwan driven by an “American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction”.
While many of the remarks were not new, the timing of their publication, and their bluntness, annoyed many Western officials.
“The European Union’s position (on Taiwan) is consistent and clear,” Borrell said in his prepared remarks. “Any attempt to change the status quo by force would be unacceptable.”
Borrell also said Europe’s future relationship with China depended on it trying to use its influence to find a political solution to the Ukraine crisis.
“It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the European Union to maintain a relationship of trust with China, which I would like to see, if China does not contribute to the search for a political solution based on Russia’s withdrawal from the Ukrainian territory,” Borrell said.
“Neutrality in the face of the violation of international law is not credible,” Borrell said, adding an appeal for Chinese President Xi Jinping to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and for China to provide more humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people.
Xi has met Russian President Vladimir Putin twice but not spoken with Zelenskiy since Russia invaded Ukraine in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in February 2022.
China stated its opposition to attacks on civilians and on nuclear facilities in a position paper on Ukraine published in February, but it has refrained from openly criticising Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
“President Xi’s visit to Moscow has demonstrated that no other country has a bigger influence on Russia than China,” said Baerbock.
“It is good that China has signalled to get engaged in finding a solution. But I have to say clearly that I wonder why China so far has not asked the aggressor Russia to stop the war. We all know President Putin has the opportunity to do so any time he wants to.”