EU braces for risk of escalation between China and US as Taiwan tensions rise – Reuters
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The deteriorating war of words between the United States and China over Taiwan « could easily escalate » and is being closely watched in European capitals, senior diplomats say.
Tensions are rising between the world’s two biggest superpowers as Beijing steps up its threats over a possible visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in the coming days.
From Brussels to Paris, EU officials have been reluctant to weigh in on the dispute in public, even as China nears the risk of a military standoff with the United States. Behind the scenes, however, European diplomats accept that there is clearly a danger that the situation could spiral out of control.
Analysts are now urging European leaders to be careful and prepare for the problems ahead.
« Worst-case scenarios do happen sometimes, » said Boris Ruge, vice-president of the Munich Security Conference, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example. « The Europeans would do well to prepare for eventualities, supporting Taiwan while staying in close contact with Beijing, and helping to de-escalate. »
Pelosi announced Sunday that she would be taking a congressional delegation on a tour of Asia. A supposed stopover in Taiwan – which provoked a violent reaction from Beijing – was not mentioned in its official itinerary but could still happen.
China insists that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi would be a clear violation of the « one China » policy governing the territory’s status and a signal of US support for Taiwan independence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized his position last week during a tense call with Joe Biden. « Those who play with fire will perish by it, » the Chinese foreign ministry said quoting Xi. « We hope that the United States will be lucid about this. » China’s Defense Ministry has warned that « the Chinese military will never stand idly by » if Pelosi’s journey continues.
Analysts believe Xi will want to show strong poise at any sign the United States is moving in support of Taiwanese independence, in part because he is seeking a breakaway third term in office this fall.
The UK has suggested arming Taiwan, warning that the West must not make the same mistakes in failing to defend the Taiwanese as it did for Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently described China’s « confident and above all robust appearance » in relation to Taiwan as « a global challenge ».
In public, however, most other European capitals were more cautious in their comments. Asked about the threat of a military response from China to a visit by Pelosi, the French foreign ministry and the EU’s foreign policy arm did not comment.
An EU diplomat said silence was to be expected at this stage, given that Taiwan is seen primarily as a US interest, but « the reaction will be different if words become deeds. »
When asked if the tensions were a concern for NATO, a senior European diplomat replied: « Not yet, but it could easily escalate. » The « worst-case scenario » would see US attention diverted from Ukraine to tensions with China over Taiwan, the top diplomat said.
A third senior European diplomat said the risk of the clashes between Washington and Beijing spilling over is « closely watched ».
Urmas Paet, deputy chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, warned that the escalation of the war in Ukraine had « exponentially » increased the risk of Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
« The European Union must also be able to keep an eye on China’s actions, including with regard to Taiwan, » Paet said. « Full cooperation between the EU and the US is very important both in terms of Russian aggression against Ukraine and also in terms of China’s actions in its neighborhood. »
Until relatively recently, Europe had been reluctant to talk about Taiwan – a democratic island of 23 million people that Beijing says is part of China. The mood soured further when China pledged a « limitless partnership » with Russia and toed the Kremlin line on its so-called « special military operation » against Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European policymakers to ponder the previously unimaginable consequences of imposing economic sanctions on the world’s second-largest economy, should Beijing intervene militarily against Taiwan.
« In the event of a military invasion, we have made it very clear that the EU, together with the United States and its allies, will impose similar or even greater measures than those we have taken against Russia, » the statement said. incoming EU ambassador to China. Jorge Toledo said earlier this month.
Clea Caulcutt contributed reporting