Aug 1, 2022
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The conflict between China and the United States: “The worst scenarios come true”

The European Union is bracing itself for the risk of an escalation in relations between China and the US as tensions mount over Taiwan after Beijing warned of a “military” response if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits the island this week.

The escalating war of words between the US and China over Taiwan “could easily escalate” and is being watched closely in European capitals, according to senior diplomats. As Politico recalls, tensions between the world’s two biggest superpowers are rising as Beijing intensifies its threats over a possible visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in the coming days.

From Brussels to Paris, EU officials have been reluctant to comment on the dispute publicly, even as China approaches the risk of a military confrontation with the US. Behind the scenes, however, European diplomats acknowledge that there is a clear danger that the situation could spiral out of control.

Analysts are now urging EU leaders to pay attention and prepare for the trouble ahead.

“Sometimes the worst-case scenarios come true,” argues Boris Ruge, vice-chairman of the Munich Security Conference, citing the conflict in Ukraine as an example. “Europeans should prepare for the contingency by supporting Taiwan while remaining in close contact with Beijing and helping to de-escalate.”

Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday that she is taking a congressional delegation on a tour of Asia. Rumor has it that although the shutdown in Taiwan, which provoked a fierce reaction from Beijing, was not mentioned in her official timetable, it could still happen.

China insists that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan would be a flagrant violation of the “one China” policy governing the status of the territory and a signal of American support for Taiwan independence.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed his position last week during a tense conversation with Joe Biden. “Those who play with fire will die from it,” Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “There is hope that the US realizes this.” The Chinese Ministry of Defense warned that “the Chinese military will never sit idly by” if Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan goes ahead.

Analysts believe that Xi Jinping will want to show resolute calm at any sign that the US is trying to support Taiwan independence, in part because he is seeking a third term in office this fall.

The UK offered to arm Taiwan, warning that the West should not make the same mistakes of not standing up for the Taiwanese as it did with Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock recently described China’s stance towards Taiwan as a “global challenge.”

In public, however, most other European capitals were more cautious in their comments. Asked about threats of China’s military response to Pelosi’s visit, the French Foreign Ministry and the EU foreign policy arm declined to comment.

One EU diplomat said that silence should be expected at this stage, given that Taiwan is primarily seen as a US interest, but “the reaction will be different if words translate into action.”

Asked if NATO is worried about tensions, a senior European diplomat replied: “Not yet, but it could easily escalate.” In the “worst case scenario,” America’s attention would be diverted from Ukraine to tensions with China over Taiwan, according to a senior diplomat.

A third senior European diplomat said there was a risk of a clash between Washington and Beijing.

Urmas Paet, vice chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, warns that the escalating conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of Chinese action against Taiwan “exponentially.”

“The European Union should also be able to monitor China’s actions, including with respect to Taiwan,” Paet said, referring to the need for “full cooperation between the EU and the US.”

Until recently, Europe avoided talking about Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China. The mood of the Europeans further deteriorated when China promised Russia “limitless partnership” and in fact supported the Russian special military operation.

The conflict in Ukraine has prompted European policymakers to consider the previously unimaginable consequences of imposing economic sanctions on the world’s second-largest economy if Beijing takes a military step against Taiwan.

“In the event of a military invasion, we have made it very clear that the EU, together with the United States and its allies, will introduce the same or even more serious measures than we have now taken against Russia,” Jorge Toledo, the new EU ambassador to China, said earlier.

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