The Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE) made history this week with a delegation visit to the Republic of China (ROC), aka Taiwan, the first official visit of the European Parliament.
It comes after MEPs adopted a report on relations with the island state at the second October plenary session which called for more cooperation and referred to Taiwan as a “key partner and democratic ally”.
The seven INGE members met with their fellow legislators, many government officials up to and including Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, as well as President Tsai Ing-wen.
President Tsai tweeted a picture of her and the delegation on Thursday, stating: “A pleasure to meet with the European Parliament delegation to discuss cooperation against disinformation & cyberattacks. A stronger Taiwan-EU partnership will help us better address these common threats & protect our shared democratic values”.
And Czech delegation member Markétka Gregorová (Greens/EFA) tweeted after having met Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang: "If you travel to the future, you get jet lag.’ It will be difficult to travel back to the past of Europe, both in time and digitisation, after meeting such a braincrush, @audreyt. Thank you for inspiring us that progress is possible”.
Tang responded by tweeting: “Taiwan & Europe are partners in the struggle to defend democracy. Pleased to share strategies on disarming disinformation", crucially adding: “Also pleased to accept the invitation for more talks ASAP in Brussels!”
"We came here with a very simple, very clear message: You are not alone. Europe is standing with you! Today Taiwan is the most vibrant democracy in the region, a treasure that all democrats around the world should cherish and protect” Delegation leader and INGE chair Raphaël Glucksmann MEP
Learning from the island’s “innovative system to combat disinformation campaigns and other types of hybrid attacks”, as Parliament’s press service put it, was, of course, the INGE delegation’s primary objective.
However, delegation leader and INGE chair Raphaël Glucksmann was not afraid to spell out the wider political motives. He began his statement at the final press conference in the capital Taipei exclaiming: "We came here with a very simple, very clear message: You are not alone. Europe is standing with you!"
In a press statement the French socialist added: “Today Taiwan is the most vibrant democracy in the region, a treasure that all democrats around the world should cherish and protect”.
Officially, the EU is adhering to the One China Policy, and, in Europe, only the Vatican recognises the ROC, rather than Taiwan’s looming giant neighbour, the Peoples’ Republic of China only.
But with the Peoples’ Republic’s recent record of curtailing democracy in Hong Kong, reportedly committing human rights’ abuses on a grand scale against its Muslim Uyghur minority, and not least the intense sabre-rattling against Taiwan, more and more European leaders are wary of a business-as-usual approach to relations with Beijing.
A front runner is Lithuania, where, after a visit from Taiwan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu last week, the opening of an unofficial representation of the ROC was announced.
It was, therefore, not surprising to see two of the most prominent Lithuanian MEPs joining the delegation: two times Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (EPP), and Petras Auštrevičius, the chair of Parliament’s Afghanistan delegation for the second legislature running and a former European affairs minister.
“Other committees from the European Parliament, I am pretty sure, will also come here, and also national parliamentary delegations from the Member States” Delegation member and former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius MEP
Kubilius commented at the final press conference that there are “a lot of things one can learn from Taiwanese democracy, because it is leading in a lot of fields, first of all on how to defend democracy against foreign interference”.
He explained that, from his perspective, the situation Taiwan finds itself in vis-a-vis China is “very similar” to the one his country is in with regards to Russia.
He also announced that the establishment of an informal EU-ROC annual dialogue on the defence of democracy had been agreed with Parliament’s Taiwanese counterparts.
Asked if, and when, he wanted to come back, Kubilius replied that he would be happy to come back as soon as possible but also commented that “other committees from the European Parliament, I am pretty sure, will also come here, and also national parliamentary delegations from the Member States”.
That the reasons for the desire for intensified cooperation go beyond Taiwan’s democracy, was illustrated by a comment on Twitter by Greek delegation member Giorgos Kyrtsos (EPP): “Taiwan produces 90% of the microchips we need for our green & digital transition. US measures against China have boosted annual Taiwan-China bilateral trade, despite the bad political climate, from $250bn to $300bn. Taiwan’s surplus stands at $100bn!”
But despite this interesting trade fact, Beijing has reacted as assertive and aggressive as never before to perceived slights against its claim on Taiwan and Chinese reunification, or to any criticism on its democratic and human rights record.
As INGE chair Glucksmann can testify, having been the target of Chinese sanctions for making public labour conditions of the Uyghurs working for a contractor of tech giants like Apple, Samsung and Huawei in Xinjiang province.