One of the European Union’s top diplomats has claimed European navies should be patrolling the Taiwan Strait in a show of strength against China.
“Taiwan is clearly part of our geostrategic perimeter to guarantee peace,” said the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last Tuesday during a debate on China at the European Parliament.
“It is not only for a moral reason that an action against Taiwan must necessarily be rejected. It is also because it would be, in economic terms, extremely serious for us, because Taiwan has a strategic role in the production of the most advanced semiconductors,” he added.
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Then in an opinion piece for the French weekly newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche, Borrell doubled down on his comments, insisting that European navies should patrol the disputed Taiwan Strait.
Europe, he said, must be “very present on this issue” because Taiwan’s affairs concern the continent “economically, commercially and technologically”.
Borrell’s call for a show of military force is at odds with the comments of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who earlier this month argued that Europe should not be a “follower” of the US in the event of conflict with China over Taiwan.
Macron’s position, after he was received in Beijing by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, for a state visit, “sparked criticism from some politicians in both the US and inside the EU”, said The Guardian.
The dramatic suggestion that EU navies should patrol the politically fraught waters of the Taiwan Strait comes just two weeks after China conducted a three-day military exercise near Taiwan, which involved simulating targeted strikes and blockades of the island.
This, in turn, was a response to a meeting between the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in early April, following which the Chinese Communist Party warned that it would “fight back”.
But China’s primary motivation for its sabre-rattling is not the historical reunification project the country claims, but rather the technological advantages Taiwan potentially offers, said The Telegraph’s world economy editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.
Taiwan accounts for 63% of the global semiconductor foundry market and produces 37% of all logic chips and 92% of the most advanced semiconductor chips under 10 nanometers (nm), “which are what matter for the global tech race”, Evans-Pritchard said.
China has long been keen to raise its chip self-sufficiency, with the aim of producing 70% of its own chips by mid-decade, but its efforts to do so have faltered and plateaued at just 16%.
Witnessing the unfolding competition over the Taiwan Strait, Europe has also been forced to reckon with its own technological vulnerability. In a bid to regain its own digital “sovereignty” after seeing its own global share of semiconductor production fall to 8%, the EU introduced the Chips Act, worth €43bn, which aims to quadruple European chip output before the end of the decade. In the meantime, concerns about access to Taiwan remain paramount.
Europe is not alone in its bid to rein in Beijing, said Robert O’Brien, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser. Washington is determined to stop China from becoming the “Opec of silicon chips”, and accordingly is “never going to let [Taiwan’s] factories fall into Chinese hands”.
However, China is unlikely to invade Taiwan, Evans-Pritchard argued, especially having seen Putin’s “humiliation” in Ukraine. Rather, Beijing’s simulated blockade is a “more insidious way of forcing Taiwan to step up advanced chip supply to China”.
Still, concern about what Xi might be capable of compelled the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, last week to yet again warn China against using force in the Taiwan Strait, “reiterating a message she delivered to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a high-stakes visit to Beijing earlier this month”, said Politico.
The EU, von der Leyen said, has “consistently called for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and we stand strongly against any unilateral change of the status quo, in particular by the use of force.”
However, more important than that, von der Leyen highlighted the need for unity in the EU’s relations with Beijing.
“I believe we can – and we must – carve out our own distinct European approach that also leaves space for us to cooperate with other partners, too,” she said. An approach which, if Borrell has his way, could involve warships.
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