December 8: Changing European Perspectives on China and Taiwan

December 8: Changing European Perspectives on China and Taiwan

Tuesday, December 8, 2020 from 9:00 AM-10:30 AM (EST)
Webcast Only

Event Description:

Until 2019, EU-China relations appeared to be on the rise—and the trend was expected to continue with the long-awaited string of EU-China summits, and emerging technology (5G) and infrastructure (BRI) projects. Instead, the events of the past year brought many European leaders to an increasingly critical stance on China. As a result of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic from China and its “facemask diplomacy,” along with an increasingly aggressive “wolf-warrior diplomacy,” European leaders and public opinion polls are showing a growing disillusionism with the PRC. At the same time, in addition to designating China a “systemic rival” in 2019, European leaders are becoming increasingly vocal in condemning China’s human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, international law violations (particularly in the South China Sea), and in their support for oppressed democracies, including Taiwan. While China’s image among Europeans has plummeted, Taiwan has gained international spotlight and praise due to its successful fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and international assistance to European (and non-European) nations. Recently, Taiwan came to the forefront in European headlines during the high-level official Czech delegation to Taiwan in the early fall of this year, supported by many European leaders. European politicians are also voicing support for Taiwan’s international participation (particularly in the WHO) in growing numbers and demonstrate interest in engaging Taiwan, given newly emerging parliamentary friendship groups between European and Taiwanese legislators. As a result of all these developments, as well as the ongoing US-China rift, there is a strong push among many European leaders for Europe to (re)define its own China policy. 

Do these developments foreshadow a long-term policy recalibration within the EU and among individual European states? Does this also present an opportunity for Europe to rethink its Taiwan policy? And what are the prospects for a more united European—and perhaps even Transatlantic—approach toward cross-Strait issues?

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib, a key member of the Czech delegation to Taiwan this year, will provide the opening keynote. Panelists will include: Zsuzsa Ferenczy, affiliated scholar at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Jamie Fly, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and GTI Advisory Board Member; Martin Hála, director of the Sinopsis project at Charles University; and I-Chung Lai, president of the Prospect Foundation. The panel will be moderated by Katherine Schultz, research associate at the Global Taiwan Institute. 

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Tuesday, December 8 starting at 9:00AM EST. Questions for the panel may be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org, through the chat function on the YouTube page, and via Twitter.

Opening Keynote:

Zdeněk Hřib is a member of the Czech Pirate Party and was inaugurated as mayor of the Czech capital in November 2018. Born in a family of architects on 21 May 1981, he decided to pursue a medical career, and after completing his studies at the Medical Faculty in Prague, devoted himself to scientific research on the quality and efficiency of public services. He is the author of a number of articles in both domestic and foreign media. Mayor Hřib is also a member of several working groups on IT and quality of services at ministerial level, the World Health Organization, and the European Union. He was also a Director of the Society of Applied Research, Education and Management in Health and occasionally lectures students inside and outside the faculty. Zdeněk Hřib is а Member of the European Committee of the Regions since 2019.


Dr. Zsuzsa Ferenczy is an affiliated scholar at the Department of Political Science of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels) and expert consultant on China, Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula of Human Rights Without Frontiers. Currently Zsuzsa conducts research as a Taiwan Fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei (September-December 2020). Zsuzsa is also Associate and freelance contributor at 9DASHLINE, a fast-growing platform dedicated to offering original comment and analysis on issues affecting the Indo-Pacific. Between 2008 and 2020 Zsuzsa worked as a political advisor in the European Parliament, covering European foreign policy and human rights in the world. Her fields of research are European foreign policy and Asia, in particular EU-China relations, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and India. In May 2019 Zsuzsa published her book, “Europe, China, and the Limits of Normative Power,” offering insights into European influence regarding China’s development, during a period when Europe confronts its most serious political, social, and economic crises of the post-war period. Considering Europe’s identity and its future international relevance, this book examines the extent to which Europe’s multi-layered governance structure, the normative divergence overshadowing EU–China relations and Europe’s crises continue to shape Europe’s capacity to inspire China’s development.

Jamie Fly is a senior fellow and senior advisor to the president, working out of the Berlin, Germany office of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) where he researches and speaks about transatlantic relations, U.S. foreign policy, great power competition with Russia and China, and democracy and human rights.  Jamie previously served as president and chief executive officer of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague, the Czech Republic from 2019-2020. Prior to his time at RFE/RL, Fly served as a senior fellow, co-director of the Alliance for Security Democracy, and director of the Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. He served as counselor for foreign and national security affairs to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) from 2013-17, serving as his foreign policy advisor during his presidential campaign. Prior to joining Senator Rubio’s staff in February 2013, he served as the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) from its founding in early 2009. Prior to joining FPI, Fly served in the Bush administration at the National Security Council (2008-09) and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (2005-08). His articles and reviews have been published in a wide variety of outlets in the United States and Europe. For his work in the Department of Defense, he was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. Fly received a B.A. in international studies and political science from American University and an M.A. in German and European studies from Georgetown University.

Dr. Martin Hala is the founder and director of Sinopsis.cz, a joint project between AcaMedia and the Institute of Sinology at Charles University in Prague. Educated in Prague, Shanghai, Berkeley, and Harvard, he taught in Prague and Bratislava and led projects in various countries in Asia. Prior to founding Sinopsis, he was the regional manager for Asia Pacific at the Open Society Foundations. 

I-Chung Lai is the president of the Prospect Foundation, a Taiwan-based think tank. Prior to joining the Prospect Foundation, he held several prominent positions within the Democratic Progressive Party, serving as executive director of the DPP Mission to the United States and as the Director General of the Department of International Affairs. He has also worked as a special assistant with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Tokyo.


Katherine Schultz is the research associate at GTI. Her research interests span Taiwan’s international space, Taiwan’s relations with Europe and the United States, and cross-Strait relations. In the past, Katherine was an intern at UN Global Compact and Europeum, an EU-focused think tank. She also previously interned at the Czech Embassy in London. In 2019, Katherine participated in the Mosaic Taiwan Fellowship Program. Two years prior, she was awarded the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship for a 9-month Mandarin Chinese language program in Taiwan. Katherine received her Master’s degree in International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Charles University in Prague. Katherine is a Czech and English bilingual, she is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and has a passive understanding of several European languages.

Event Summary:

On Tuesday, December 8, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual seminar entitled “Changing European Perspectives on China and Taiwan.” The event, moderated by Research Associate Katherine Schultz, included a keynote address by Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib, a key member of the Czech delegation to Taiwan this year, as well as panelists Zsuzsa Ferenczy, affiliated scholar at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Jamie Fly, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and GTI Advisory Board member; Martin Hála, director of the Sinopsis Project at Charles University; and I-Chung Lai, president of the Prospect Foundation.

Mayor Zdeněk Hřib began his keynote address by describing his personal history with Taiwan; he first visited as part of a medical internship at the Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in 2005. It was during this experience, he stated, that he truly began to recognize Taiwanese kindness, hospitality, and creativity in applying technological innovations to daily life. When he became mayor, one of his priorities was then to deepen the ties between Prague and Taipei, developing a sister city program between the two. He commended Taiwan on its commitment to global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirmed the strong partnership between the Czech Republic and Taiwan. 

Following the keynote address, Zsuzsa Ferenczy gave an overview of the EU-Taiwan partnership today. She urged the audience to view this relationship positively—as a collaboration between two like-minded partners—and not to view the relationship in the shadow of EU-China relations. She made the important point that the EU is a collection of 27 individual sovereign member states, and thus formal EU foreign policy will be limited by the varying interests of these states. China has been a strategic partner of the EU since 2003, but there have been recent shifts towards more vocal criticism of the PRC following the PRC’s aggressive diplomacy and lack of political or economic reciprocity. Ferenczy pointed out that the EU is taking actual measures to address this imbalance, which provides an opportunity for EU members to reconsider Taiwan’s role in the relationship. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how much Taiwan can contribute, and Ferenczy urged the EU to be more pragmatic. Such a shift would not require a formal relationship or removing China from the equation, but instead would entail strengthening the current relationship and identifying new areas for improvement. 

Jamie Fly continued the conversation with some observations regarding EU-China relations. He pointed out that the recent shift towards negative attitudes towards China was primarily driven by the European business community, who increasingly perceive China as a rival. Though EU leaders have tried to engage China on economic, climate, and other issues, EU-China summits have passed without even basic agreements, while investment discussions have gone nowhere. At the same time, China’s attempts to improve its reputation in Europe through initiatives like the “facemask diplomacy” campaign have only resulted in a rise in negative views of China. Fly mentioned that one potential for change in the future is the election of a new chancellor in Germany next year. A new leader may have the ability to take Germany—the largest EU member that has not yet adjusted its policies on China—in a new direction that could impact the EU-China relationship. Fly also connected this relationship to the US, stating that Biden’s election opens the door for a new partnership between the US and Europe. He compared Taiwan to West Berlin during the Cold War, describing Taiwan as frontline against increasing authoritarian power which should receive support and strategic assistance from allied powers to lead that resistance. As such, the current state of affairs presents a perfect opportunity to bring Taiwan into the conversation about global challenges of authoritarianism against democracy worldwide. 

Subsequently, Martin Hála described the relationship between Taiwan and Central and Eastern Europe from a historical perspective. Specifically, he outlined how Taiwan’s relationship with Eastern Europe developed in a different trajectory than its relationship with Western Europe. He provided Macedonia as an example. In 1999, Macedonia established formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but this only lasted for two years because China used its position as a member of the UN Security Council to block a peacekeeping mission during the Yugoslav War. This demonstrated the limitations of a close relationship with Taiwan, even though before 2008, Taiwan was considered a stronger economic partner than China. Following the 2012 establishment of the Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (China-CEE, currently known as “17 + 1”), the region adopted a more open attitude towards China. Despite these developments, we have yet to see how long these new perspectives will last. 

Finally, I-Chung Lai described how the COVID-19 pandemic boosted Taiwan’s morale, highlighting the many contributions Taiwan can offer to the rest of the world. Building on this, he argued that countries in the EU need to focus on Taiwan as separate from China, working to strengthen economic relationships, even if they only take the form of strategic discussions and partnerships. Lai described China’s recently released 15-year economic plans, which focus less on economic relationships with Western countries and more on domestic development. He spoke about the importance of having an immediate practical solution for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. To this end, he encouraged EU countries to work with Taiwan to allow its participation, even forming new organizations that include Taiwan if necessary.

Questions for the panelists focused on looking forward to the long-term. Will this trend of shifting perspectives continue next year and into the future? Ferenczy pointed out that since these perceptions are backed by actual actions from the EU and initiatives to counter Chinese disinformation campaigns, she expects them to continue. However, both Lai and Fly warned that China is by no means guaranteed to maintain its current diplomatic tactics, and could potentially adjust its strategy to better appeal to EU states. As such, maintaining a united front will be key. In response to a question about incorporating EU countries into the Global Cooperation Training Framework (GCTF), both Hála and Lai thought this may be possible, even if on a smaller scale or in a less formal capacity.

This summary was written by GTI Fall 2020 Intern Annabel Uhlman.

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