The EU is preparing for an Escalation between China and the US

World » EU | August 1, 2022, Monday // 11:29
Bulgaria: The EU is preparing for an Escalation between China and the US @Flickr

Tensions between the world's two biggest superpowers are rising 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 publicly intervene in the dispute, even as China moves closer to a military confrontation with the US.

Analysts are urging EU leaders to pay attention and prepare for problems ahead.

"The worst-case scenarios sometimes come true," said Boris Ruge, vice-chairman of the Munich Security Conference, citing Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an example. "The Europeans would do well to prepare for contingencies by supporting Taiwan, staying in close contact with Beijing, and helping de-escalate."

Pelosi has not announced a visit to Taiwan, while visits to Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea have been announced for now.

Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored his position last week during a tense conversation with Joe Biden. "Those who play with fire will perish by it. We hope the US will be clear-eyed on this." China's Ministry of Defense warned that "the Chinese military will never sit idly by" if Pelosi's trip goes ahead.

The UK has offered to arm Taiwan, warning that the West must not make the same mistakes it made in Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently described China's "confident and above all solid image" regarding Taiwan as a "global challenge".

Publicly, however, most other European capitals were more cautious in their comments. When asked about the threat of a military response from China to Pelosi's visit, the French foreign ministry and the EU's foreign affairs office declined to comment.

The silence at this stage is expected given that Taiwan is primarily seen as a US interest, but "the reaction will be different if words turn into actions," an EU diplomat said.

"Not yet, but it could easily grow." In the "worst case" US focus will shift from Ukraine to tensions with China over Taiwan, a top EU diplomat said when asked how the situation was affecting NATO.

A third senior European diplomat said the risk of clashes between Washington and Beijing escalating was being watched "closely".

The escalation of the war in Ukraine has increased the risk of Chinese aggression towards Taiwan "exponentially", warned Urmas Paet, vice-chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.

"The European Union must also be able to monitor China's actions, including regarding Taiwan," Paet said. "Full cooperation between the EU and the US is very important both in relation to Russian aggression against Ukraine and in relation to China's actions."

Until relatively recently, Europe avoided talking about Taiwan. Sentiment has soured further after China pledged a "partnership without limits" with Russia and toed the Kremlin's line on a so-called "special military operation" against Ukraine.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted European politicians to consider the previously unthinkable consequences of imposing economic sanctions on the world's second-largest economy if Beijing takes military action against Taiwan.

"In the event of a military invasion, we have made it clear that the EU, together with the US and its allies, will impose similar or even greater measures than those we have now taken against Russia," the future EU ambassador to China Jorge Toledo said earlier this month.

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