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Bolstering Resilience, Peace, and Stability

A Transatlantic Framework for Taiwan

January 24, 2023
As the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches, conflict in the Taiwan Strait has become conceivable.

Russia’s aggression may have triggered a global food crisis and dislocated world energy markets, but a use of force by China against Taiwan would result in far greater economic catastrophe. It would unleash global trade and investment shocks and massive supply chain disruptions.

How should the transatlantic alliance prepare for and respond to this potential crisis?

Mutual reinforcement is paramount. As EU and NATO members need the United States to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and its hard line against Russia, the United States needs the EU to prioritize continued peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The German Marshall Fund, recognizing Taiwan’s strategic importance, organized a transatlantic study tour in late 2022 to showcase the need for a unified policy approach. Tour participants explored ways that the United States and Europe could collaborate diplomatically, economically, and militarily to strengthen international law and promote the democratic values that both share with Taiwan.

Europe and the United States can use diplomacy to encourage multilateralism and Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. This would allow the transatlantic partners to address Beijing’s ongoing efforts, as part of its “One China” principle, to exclude Taiwan from the United Nations and its specialized agencies. The EU and the United States should also publicly and repeatedly emphasize the differences between their “One China” policies and Beijing’s “One China” principle. A joint letter to the UN secretary general opposing China’s campaign to distort the meaning of UN Resolution 2758, which enabled the People’s Republic of China to join the organization in 1971 but did not address Taiwan’s potential participation, would be helpful in this regard.

The transatlantic alliance can also bolster Taiwan’s global economic resilience. Europe, the United States, and Taiwan can create a trilateral “silicon shield” that reduces vulnerabilities and promotes semiconductor supply chain resilience. The transatlantic partners could include Taiwan in the EU-US Trade and Technology Council’s (TTC) semiconductor working group, or the EU could join the US-Taiwan Technology and Trade Innovation Collaboration (TTIC). The TTIC focuses on semiconductors, 5G, electric vehicles, sustainable energy, and cybersecurity. Trilateral cooperation could extend to trade and investment discussions with Southeast Asian countries, which are diversifying their economies.

From a security perspective, just as Russia has long targeted Europe and the United States with gray zone tactics, Taiwan increasingly faces similar threats from China. Such hostile actions, which are below the threshold of armed attack, include cyberattacks, information operations, daily air and naval incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, and economic coercion. The transatlantic partners could promote greater European involvement in strengthening Taiwan’s cybersecurity, especially that for critical infrastructure and network defense operations. Estonia and Ukraine, in particular, have important lessons to impart in this area. France and the United Kingdom can share operational experience in offensive cyber warfare. Europe and the United States can also share tactics to combat disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation operations, and counter digital authoritarianism, with Taiwan and other countries in the region.

China’s and Russia’s information operations share similar characteristics, if not objectives, through their use of diaspora contacts, amplification of domestic disrupters, and economic influence. Analytical tools, research, and programming, such as those of GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy and the EU’s Disinformation Center, can combat this. They can help detect narratives and trends, and share rapid response and prevention measures, including effective means to bolster citizen resistance. Taiwan also has its own role to play. Its inclusion in global and transatlantic working groups and communities of practice on countering information warfare is essential. Taiwan must be involved in efforts to strengthen relevant preemptive measures, boost public diplomacy, and improve capabilities to anticipate nefarious information campaigns. This type of cooperation is needed to thwart China’s use of digital technologies—such as telecommunications infrastructure, electronic devices, and software—and technology governance policies to suppress democracy and civil society. Taiwan’s membership in the Summit for Democracy’s cohort on information integrity, for example, is an encouraging step. European, American, and regional actors could also benefit from Taiwan’s linguistic expertise to master the nuances of China’s information policy; from Taiwan’s DoubleThink Lab, which works to strengthen democracy through digital defense; and from local fact-checking organizations.

People Power

Ukrainians have amply demonstrated the power inherent in their struggle for freedom. Taiwan lags in building similar social resilience, though it has started to make progress by revamping military training for conscripts and reservists, and extending compulsory military service from four months to twelve. Several European countries can assist Taiwan with this process by sharing their experiences in improving defense infrastructure and fighting disinformation, among other areas. Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Lithuania, for example, could share lessons learned from their “total defense” programs, which can mobilize the military and civilians in a time of crisis. These or other countries could also help Taiwan with strategies for energy resilience, ensuring food security, and stockpiling sufficient ammunition and emergency supplies. All of these measures are critical for an island vulnerable to a Chinese naval blockade.

Seafaring European countries and the United States already support Taiwan’s security by routinely sailing through the Taiwan Strait, asserting freedom of navigation in that strategically important international waterway. US Navy ships conduct monthly transits. France and the United Kingdom sailed warships through the strait in 2019 and 2021, but the French Navy reportedly conducts annual transits. Joint action should also be considered. Notably, US and Canadian warships conducted two transits last year. Select European naval powers, the United States, and Taiwan could also establish exchanges and partnerships among their coast guards to counter Chinese gray zone coercion.

Finally, some European countries should step up their currently limited support for Taiwan’s military. They could provide spare parts for the air force’s F-16s, which suffer greater wear and tear from frequent scrambling to warn away Chinese military pilots breaching the island’s airspace. European countries should also grant export licenses for components of weapons systems. The most recent example of European assistance is a deal with France to upgrade the outdated missile interference system on the Lafayette frigates sold to Taiwan more than three decades ago. European companies are also assisting Taiwan with an indigenous submarine project, though few details of this cooperation of been made public. Still, Europe could do more to fortify Taiwan’s defenses.

Ukraine’s security was threatened and violated internally and externally for eight years before the international community fully understood the magnitude of Russia’s malevolent ambitions. Taiwan’s security is now in an increasingly precarious position. By working together, Europe and the United States can bolster Taiwan’s resilience and preserve regional peace and stability. This would also strengthen international law, multilateral diplomacy, and global economic resilience. What better New Year’s resolution for the transatlantic alliance?