EUROPE ASIA FOUNDATION - INSIGHT
Pelosi's Visit to Taiwan and the Chinese Challenge
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan brought about a Chinese naval blockade of Taiwan. China also fired Dengfeng missiles in Japan’s vicinity. The Chinese justification was that they would not tolerate any departure from One China policy. There need not have been any such apprehension. The visit by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to Taipei was accompanied by a reaffirmation of the One China policy by the US Administration. Taiwan has not made any unilateral declaration of independence. China’s provocative action was meant to constrain Taiwan’s options to maintain the status quo.
China used the occasion to conduct a full-scale military rehearsal for invading Taiwan. There is a subtle change in China’s position. Earlier the use of force was threatened in the case of the declaration of independence by the ROC. The demonstration of China’s military might is intended to progressively whittle down Taiwan’s resistance to unification. The threshold which will trigger a violent response from China has been lowered.
China’s disproportionate response is also being justified with reference to internal dynamics in that country. Xi Jinping is to be re-elected as the party Chairman for the third term in the forthcoming 20th Party Congress to be held later this year. This is a departure from the existing practice where the Chairman’s tenure was limited to two terms. He has shifted the goal post internally as well as externally. Taiwan’s democracy has to be sacrificed to cement Xi’s rise internally.
China broke its promise of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ over Hong Kong. Australia’s decision to buy nuclear submarines from the USA led to Chinese economic coercion which cancelled the contract for the supply of coal by Australia. Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an article in Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily, wrote: ‘A much more provocative Beijing is likely going to be the new normal going forward, especially as Beijing believes that the US is moving away from its One-China policy’.[i] It is not clear if the US is moving away from its One-China policy. The US denies it. China is flexing its muscles as its military and economic power grows.
Kevin Rudd also believes that Xi Jinping’s policies are driven by China’s core interests in ‘the unity and the territorial integrity of the motherland.’[ii] He adds this includes ‘maintaining firm control over Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Hong Kong…..’ [iii] Is there a serious challenge to China? Britain handed over its former colony to China in 1997. Nor is there any threat to the Chinese control of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. The issue is the nature of the internal regime. China has also constantly expanded the definition of what it regards as its core interest. Before objecting to the Australian acquisition of nuclear submarines, it had a row with the South-East Asian countries over the so-called nine-dash line. That the Chinese claim had no legal or historical validity was clear from the fact that it was rejected by the International Arbitration Tribunal under the Law of the Sea.
Europe’s view of China must be guided by the European experience of that country. China runs a massive trade surplus with the EU. In 2021, the EU exported to China goods worth Euro 223 billion, while it imported goods worth Euro 472 billion. The EU ran a small surplus in terms of trade in services. The EU’s service exports to China in 2020 were Euro 47 billion, while its service imports from that country were Euro 31 billion. The surplus of Euro 16 billion in trade in services does not in any way neutralise the deficit of Euro 249 billion in trade in goods.
The EU-China summits have not produced a joint statement in recent years. Both sides state their respective position. This is indicative of a more assertive China, which wants to decide the terms of engagement. ‘In 2016 and 2017, there were no joint statements in light of disagreements about steel-production overcapacity and whether China should be granted market-economy status.’ [iv] The 23rd EU-China summit took place on 1 April 2022 via video conference. Apart from political issues like Ukraine, there were differences on a host of issues ranging from trade, sanctions against members of the European Parliament, cybersecurity threats, human rights to foreign affairs. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell described the summit as a ‘dialogue of the deaf’.[v]
The EU expressed its ‘disappointment with China’s unjustified sanctions, including against members of the European Parliament, and its coercive measures against the EU single market and member states.’ [vi]EU-China summit via video conference, 1 April 2022) This was a reference to China’s economic coercion of Lithuania. ‘There was no meaningful discussion’ of the issue, which ‘disrupts the functioning of the bloc’s single market’. [vii]
According to the statement by the EU side, ‘The EU pointed to the need to address long-standing concerns related to market access and the investment environment in China, with the view to ensuring a balanced trade and economic relationship.’ The EU also reiterated its concerns regarding the human rights situation in China, including the treatment of persons belonging to minorities and human rights defenders, citing the individual cases, as well as the dismantling of the ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong. The EU reaffirmed its commitment to its One China policy while raising concerns about increased cross-strait tensions.’ [viii]
One of the areas of agreement between the EU and China was Climate change, where ‘Leaders agreed to continue cooperation on climate change and energy transition.’ ‘The EU stressed the importance of additional measures, including on phasing down coal, in the run-up to COP 27 in Sharm-El Sheikh.’ [ix] The Ukraine crisis has shifted focus from climate change to energy security. However, China remains the biggest consumer of coal. Its share of world coal consumption (50.5%) exceeds that of all other countries combined. India comes a distant second with 11.3% followed by the US at 8.5% of the global coal consumption. [x]
China is the biggest polluter. China’s national emissions in 2019 were 10.17 billion tons, almost double that of the second largest emitter USA at 5.28 billion tons, followed by EU-28 at 3.29 billion tons and India at 2.63 billion tons [xi]. Its share of global emissions currently stands at around 20%, which will go up by 2030 since the US as well as EU have agreed to cut down on their emission levels, while Chinese emissions will continue to grow till 2030 when they peak.
China clearly has the heaviest responsibility to avert a climate disaster. In a reaction to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China has broken off the dialogue on climate change with the USA. It is keen, however, to maintain ‘engagement’ with the USA on trade, where it has an interest in preserving its advantage. It runs a trade surplus with US, India and EU. It is not comfortable with the EU as a political union. It would prefer to confine the relationship to trade, where it enjoys a huge surplus. The scale of the surplus has implications going beyond commerce. It is leading to the de-industrialisation of major economies. This also has an impact on the job situation.
President Xi Jinping in his remarks at the EU-China Summit counselled the EU ‘to form its own perception of China, adopt an independent China policy, and work with China for the steady and sustained growth of China-EU relations.’ [xii] What the statement implied was that the EU does not have an ‘independent’ foreign policy vis-a-vis China. The statement is designed to drive a rift between the US and the EU, or at any rate cast aspersion on the latter’s policies. The issue of course goes beyond the foreign policy domain to trade, industry, employment, human rights and democracy. The immediate crisis over Taiwan Strait may be over for now. But China’s aggressive behaviour and predatory trade policies have implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region.
D. P. Srivastava
(The author is a former Indian Ambassador)
[i] Managing the rise of a more assertive China by Kevin Rudd, Hindustan Times, August 24, 2022
[ii] Managing the rise of a more assertive China by Kevin Rudd, Hindustan Times, August 24, 2022
[iii] Managing the rise of a more assertive China by Kevin Rudd, Hindustan Times, August 24, 2022
[iv] EU-China summits: From cooperation to damage control, by Grzegorz Stec,www.merics.org
[v] EU-China summits: From cooperation to damage control, by Grzegorz Stec,www.merics.org
Vi www.consilium.europa.eu EU-China summit via video conference, 1 April 2022)
[vii] EU-China summits: From cooperation to damage control, by Grzegorz Stec,www.merics.org
[x] www.worldometers.info, Coal Consumption by Country 2022-World Population Review