29th Sep 2023

EU pressing China to pledge Taiwan peace

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell in Jakarta (Photo:
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The EU and US are urging Beijing to pledge to non-aggression in the South China Sea, amid heightened tension on Taiwan.

The Western push comes in a grand declaration on maritime security to be signed in Indonesia on Friday (14 July) by 27 foreign ministers from around the world.

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The "regional forum" is seeing EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell and US secretary of state Antony Blinken mingle in Jakarta with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

The yearly Asia meeting also involves Western-allied powers Australia, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea.

Other participants include India, Pakistan, and Thailand. Myanmar's military junta was barred from coming over atrocities. North Korea's foreign minister declined to go.

Adds and deletions

China originally proposed the maritime security declaration.

"The oceans and seas are vital to human life and the global ecosystem, are home to extensive biodiversity, play a crucial role in climate change goals, and constitute a lifeline to a broad range of economic activities including trade cooperation," it says in its "agreed" first line, according to a draft dated 6 July and seen by EUobserver.

But with China building up its military on disputed islands and sabre-rattling on Taiwan, the EU and its allies are pressing for a promise not to go to war.

"It is paramount that all nations in the region abstain from the threat or use of force or coercion in resolving maritime disputes," the EU, US, Canada, Japan, and Indonesia wanted to say in the communiqué's second paragraph.

China wants to "delete" this, the EU's draft document noted.

Signatories will "refrain from unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region and from any land- or sea-based activity threatening safety of navigation and life at sea," the EU aimed to add and China to delete.

The EU, US, and Japan also wanted to spotlight the "recent increase in tensions in the South and East China Seas as well as the Taiwan Strait", but China, this time backed by Russia, once again said no.

And the original Chinese proposal was to limit the whole text to "non-traditional" maritime threats, such as piracy and marine terrorism, instead of strategic-level flashpoints.

But the EU, US, Canada, and their Asian allies systematically called for the "non-traditional" phrase to be struck out of the Jakarta conclusions.

A similar pattern showed up in a second draft communiqué, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the so-called ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

The second text was proposed by Indonesia, which is currently chairing the club, and peppered with proposed EU insertions on "refraining from the use of force", although China was less bothered about deleting the Western language here.

"Negotiations on these statements are often concluded on the ground, the day before the ARF ministerial meeting takes place," EU officials said in a background memo.

The declarations are, in any case, "legally non-binding" political promises, and do "not involve any financial … commitments," they noted.

For his part, Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu also didn't go to Jakarta, amid escalating Chinese threats to reconquer its former province.

"We see no imminency of Chinese military actions. We also see war is not unavoidable," he told French radio station France 24 on Thursday.

"They're trying to coerce Taiwan to give up power and surrender to Chinese pressure," Wu said.

"They're using ideas from their ancient writer about warfare Sun Tzu — the Chinese are trying to crush their enemy without actual use of force, but nevertheless the threat is there," he added.

The EU and US held their first ever joint naval exercise in the region in March in a sign of European ambition to become a geopolitical force.

"I call on European navies to patrol the Taiwan Strait to signify Europe's commitment to freedom of navigation in this absolutely crucial area," the EU's Borrell also said in April.

Russian shadow

Meanwhile, Russia's war against Ukraine has also cast its shadow on the Asia meeting.

China has given Russia propaganda support and the EU has sanctioned a handful of Chinese firms for re-exporting prohibited Western arms components to Russia.

Russia's Lavrov, who is on EU and US blacklists, backed Beijing by complaining about Nato expansion in Asia prior to meeting China's Wang on Thursday.

Lavrov also invited 10 Asian states to a forum in Vladivostock in September, as the Kremlin seeks to break Western-led isolation on the world stage.

The ARF meetings used to focus on trade in more peaceful times and Russia's war has sent shockwaves through the world economy.

But Taiwan's Wu warned French radio listeners on Thursday that that was nothing compared to the harm a Chinese invasion of his homeland would cause.

"About 50 percent of [Asia's] goods to the rest of the world flow through the Strait of Taiwan," he said, envisioning a halt to commercial shipping in the event of an invasion.

"And there's a high-percentage of semiconductor products coming from Taiwan, especially the highest-end of semiconductor chips are made here, so if the supply chain is disrupted, it's going to be a distaster for the rest of the world," he added.

Nuclear safety

In less controversial areas, the EU proposed to insert a line "highlighting the significant impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on the marine environment and maritime security" to the Chinese-proposed communiqué.

The 27 ministers have pre-agreed to "actively address issues related to climate change, such as sea level rise, coastal erosion".

They've also agreed to "maintain scientific and technological cooperation" on natural disasters, such as typhoons and tsunamis.

A tsunami caused a nuclear leak at Japan's Fukushima power plant in 2011.

But the EU joined Japan, the US, Australia and other Western-allied countries in trying to soften China's proposed language on nuclear safety.

They wanted to cut references to "nuclear accidents" from a pledge on marine ecosystems, which China wanted to "retain", according to the draft document seen by EUobserver.

The EU also pressed to delete a promise to "oppose the dumping of radioactive waste into the sea through artificial structures at sea".


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