Europe’s challenges in formulating a common approach to China were on display this week as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set out on a high-profile visit to Beijing while lawmakers from seven European countries and the European Union were winding up a show of solidarity in Taiwan.
The eight lawmakers — from Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Ukraine and the European Parliament — belong to IPAC, the global Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. The group was established two years ago with the goal of alerting their governments to what they see as a threat to peace and democracy posed by China as it is led by the Chinese Communist Party.
The group met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who thanked them for their work to strengthen political and economic ties between democratic countries and Taiwan. Tsai was gifted with a traditional shirt known as a vyshyvanka by Ukrainian lawmaker Mykola Kniazhytskyi, while Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was given a pair of boxing gloves signed by brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, former champion fighters who have gained further fame with the Russia-Ukraine war. Vitali Klitschko is also known as a former mayor of Kyiv.
“Thank you for passing on the fighting spirit of Ukraine to Taiwan. We stand in solidarity and box against authoritarianism,” Wu said in a statement posted on social media, alongside photos of himself putting the gloves into action.
Els Van Hoof, a member of the Belgian parliament, spoke Thursday at a press conference hosted by the IPAC lawmakers in Taipei. “Taiwan’s safety — and the safety of all our democracies — grows with stronger partnerships,” she said. “We will push to increase the number of inter-parliamentary visits between Taiwan and our legislatures, to aid mutual understanding and cooperation.”
IPAC lawmakers are also committed to “work towards appropriate military and defense cooperation between our countries and Taiwan,” while pushing for Taiwan’s greater involvement in international institutions and increased bilateral trade, Van Hoof said.
Dutch lawmaker Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma told VOA before leaving Taipei on Friday that he was impressed by the resilience and optimism he witnessed on the trip.
“Nevertheless, the sense of urgency among their leaders is real,” he said. Taiwan’s leaders, he noted, are committed to de-escalating tension and are seeking international partners to help them do this, while preparing for the scenario “in which the threats of the leader of the Chinese Communist Party are not just rhetoric.”
The delegation was led by Reinhard Buetikofer, a member of the German Green Party who was among 10 European lawmakers sanctioned by Beijing in March 2021 for what the Chinese foreign ministry described as severely harming China’s sovereignty and interests “and maliciously spread[ing] lies and disinformation.” The action followed unilateral sanctions imposed on China by the EU over Beijing’s human rights record.
In Taipei, the government presented Buetikofer with its Grand Medal of Diplomacy for his “determination to stand up for democracy, strengthen Taiwan-EU ties and support our international participation.”
As the IPAC lawmakers wound up their trip to Taiwan, Chancellor Scholz was headed to Beijing with some of Germany’s leading business executives. Facing criticism over the trip at home, he defended it in a recent opinion article published jointly by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Politico.
Acknowledging the consolidation of Communist Party rule and power under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Scholz wrote that it “is precisely because ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option in these circumstances that I’m traveling to Beijing.”
“The outcome of the Communist Party Congress that has just ended is unambiguous: Avowals of Marxism-Leninism take up a much broader space than in the conclusions of previous congresses … As China changes, the way that we deal with China must change, too,” Scholz wrote.
However, the visit remains controversial even for some members of Scholz’s governing coalition, which includes Buetikofer’s Green Party and the traditionally pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), one of whose members was part of the IPAC delegation to Taiwan.
Speaking to VOA in September, legislator Gyde Jensen, a member of the FDP who participated in the IPAC delegation, said China’s treatment of Hong Kong and the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have “disqualified” Beijing as a “trusted member of our rules-based order, which should alarm [every]one, especially those who conduct business there.”
Human rights “in my opinion, is the lens that every politician should look through, because human rights are at the heart and center of our liberal democracies,” Jensen said while in Washington to attend IPAC’s 2022 summit.
“I firmly believe that we can only counter the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party and preserve our rules-based order if we join forces and build alliances across the globe,” Jensen added.