March 15: Contextualizing Taiwan’s Role in Central and Eastern Europe

March 15: Contextualizing Taiwan’s Role in Central and Eastern Europe

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 from 10:00AM – 11:30AM (ET)

Online Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual seminar discussion on “Contextualizing Taiwan’s Role in Central and Eastern Europe.”

In 2021, Lithuania made international headlines by dramatically expanding its relationship with Taiwan, including the controversial decision to allow the opening of the “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.” Despite pushback from the People’s Republic of China, ties between the two have continued to grow, potentially laying the groundwork for an enduring partnership. While these developments were certainly noteworthy in their own right, they are emblematic of larger policy shifts in Central and Eastern Europe. Once a bastion of Chinese influence, the region has grown increasingly wary of Beijing in recent years. At the same time, states across the region have steadily expanded their ties with Taiwan, with lawmakers from countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary working to engage more deeply with Taiwanese partners. From delegations to trade deals, Taiwan’s role in Central and Eastern Europe seems poised to continue to grow, though significant challenges remain. What is behind China’s declining role in Central and Eastern Europe? What factors have shaped Taiwan’s relationships with regional states? How can Taiwan strengthen its position in the region? This panel will discuss these questions and more.

This panel will coincide with the release of a new GTI report on Taiwan’s ties with Central and Eastern Europe.

The Speakers:

Dr. Kristina Kironska is an assistant professor at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic. In addition to her academic work, she is the advocacy director at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, as well as the chair of Amnesty International Slovakia. Previously, she has served as a visiting scholar at the University of Taipei, a research assistant at the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies, and a lecturer at National Sun Yat-sen University. She received her PhD and MA from National Sun Yat-sen University and an MA and BA from the University of Economics in Bratislava.

Jakub Janda is the executive director of the European Values Center for Security Policy (EVC). He specializes in European policy toward Russia and China, as well as the response of democratic states to hostile influence operations. Outside of his civilian job, he serves as an officer of Active Reserves of the Czech Armed Forces within the Czech Cyber and Information Warfare Command. In 2016 – 2017, he was tasked by Czech security and intelligence institutions to consult on “Influence of Foreign Powers” chapter within the Audit of National Security conducted by the Czech government, where he was involved in the Czech policy shift on this issue. Since 2015, he was asked to provide briefings or trainings in more than 20 countries. He has delivered expert briefings and testimonies to members of US Congress, the NATO Political Committee, and the European Parliament Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Disinformation (INGE). He spent four months living in Taipei where he established EVC Taiwan Office in January 2022, making EVC the first European think-tank to set up permanent presence in Taiwan.

Filip Šebok is a project manager and China Research Fellow at the Association for International Affairs (AMO), Czech Republic, working on the MapInfluenCE and China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe (CHOICE) projects. Previously, he worked for the Slovak research institutions Stratpol and CEIAS and was a Fall 2022 CEPA James S. Denton Fellow in Washington, DC. Šebok also gained experience as an intern at the Asia desk of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Slovak embassy in Beijing. His research interests include Chinese domestic and foreign policy, especially relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries, and China’s foreign policy rhetoric. Šebok graduated in Chinese cultural studies and international relations from Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and Renmin University in Beijing, studying in a full-time program taught in Chinese.

Dr. Ágnes Szunomár is an associate professor at Corvinus University of Budapest. In addition, she serves as the head of the Research Group on Development Economics at the Institute of World Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungary. Her research focuses on East Asia, emerging markets, and foreign direct investment issues and related policies in Central and Eastern Europe. She led and participated in several international and Hungarian research projects and is a member of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action “China In Europe Research Network”, where she is the head of the Working Group on “Strategic sectors and infrastructure developments.” She is also a member of China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe (CHOICE) network. She received her PhD and MA from Corvinus University of Budapest, as well as an MA from Eötvös Loránd University.

The Moderator:

Marshall Reid is the program manager at GTI, as well as the host of GTI’s podcast, GTI Insights. Previously, he worked as a program assistant with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where he helped to organize several international forums focused on East and South Asian affairs. He has also worked as an office assistant at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Prior to moving to Washington, DC, he served as an english instructor in Taipei, Taiwan. He received his MA in international affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and his BA in history and international relations from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

Event Summary:

On March 15, 2023, the Global Taiwan Institute hosted a virtual seminar on “Contextualizing Taiwan’s Role in Central and Eastern Europe.” The panel included Dr. Kristina Kironska, Jakub Janda, Filip Šebok, and Dr. Ágnes Szunomár. The moderator for the event was GTI Program Manager Marshall Reid. As of late, Central Europe has become a fault-line between Chinese and Taiwanese influence. In 2021, Lithuania dramatically expanded its unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan by opening the “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.” Many other states in the region followed suit, with policymakers from countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia openly pursuing a deeper partnership with Taiwan, despite pushback from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Indeed, many Central European states are simultaneously pulling away from China politically while also seeking closer ties with Taiwan. During the event, panelists discussed the multifaceted decision-making process of European stakeholders. The speakers analyzed the factors that have caused these states to reevaluate their ties between China and Taiwan, which often encompass a complex combination of economic, political, and diplomatic considerations.     

Dr. Kristina Kironska opened the discussion by presenting an overview of EU-Taiwan interactions and notable developments in the relationship. Due to Taiwanese initiatives such as a vaccine donations—in addition to rising skepticism toward China—EU-Taiwan interactions have risen dramatically. High-level dialogues between state officials, as well expanding trade ties, are the new norm for many EU actors. On balance, Kironska stated there are three broad categories Central and Eastern European states when it comes to Taiwan: vanguards, pragmatists, and laggards. Vanguards include states that are leading the way in terms of advocating for political ties with Taiwan, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Lithuania. Pragmatists are states that may have a high degree of economic engagement with Taiwan, paradoxically in some cases even more than the vanguard countries, but nonetheless are not engaged in political promotion on behalf of Taiwan. The third category, the laggards, are chiefly concerned about trade and diplomatic relations with China. As such, they tend to prioritize their economic and political commitments with China and accordingly have a minimal relationship with Taiwan. These laggard countries included states such as Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Estonia.      

Jakub Janda, the second panelist, analyzed the Czech Republic’s unique and increasingly acrimonious relationship between China, as well as its more concerted efforts toward engagement with Taiwan. Janda noted that China has made several attempts at buying political influence in Central and Eastern Europe, specifically targeting states willing to play the role as political proxies. This strategy has been met with mixed results at best, with China receiving strong strategic support from Hungary but considerable pushback from many other Central European countries. One such example emblematic of this trend is the case of the Czech Republic. While the former president of the Czech Republic was vocally supportive of China, politicians representing both sides of the political spectrum are increasingly engaging with Taiwan. In fact, the current coalition government is a vocal advocate of Taiwan’s political participation, and enhanced exchange is a central part of the government’s foreign policy manifesto. Furthermore, political analysts anticipate an upcoming presidential meeting between Tsai Ing-wen and Petr Pavel, the recently elected president of the Czech Republic. To further enhance ties with Taiwan, the next step for the Czech side is to turn increased political ties into more meaningful economic cooperation. Security cooperation is another potential domain for collaboration, as Taiwan has unique intelligence on Chinese state espionage and cyber operations.  

Following this, Filip Šebok discussed China’s complicated role in the region, as well as the reasons for a recent rise in skepticism toward Chinese foreign policy among many Central and Eastern European states. Šebok elaborated on two primary reasons European states are becoming increasingly disappointed and distrustful toward China’s influence. First, and perhaps most notably, China’s role in the Ukraine war as a pro-Russia advocate has concerned many European actors. Second, while there has been a proliferation of contact between China and European states, China lacks a long-term strategy in the region. For Europeans, their security and political interests are not aligned with China. And while there has long been interest in expanding economic partnerships with China, many states are growing less convinced of the financial benefits. Overall, the broad skepticism toward China could provide Taiwan with an important window of opportunity to expand its economic and political partnerships in the region.

To conclude, Dr. Ágnes Szunomár analyzed the economic factors that underly China and Taiwan’s approach to engagement with Central and Eastern European states. Szunomár raised an important question: is there a strong causal relationship between economic relations and robust political ties? When it comes to choosing investment destinations in Central or Eastern Europe, China tends to invest more in countries that are politically friendly and less in states that have a critical stance, often making investment opportunities conditional for European actors. Conversely, EU states that have substantial economic interactions with China will not necessarily actively seek out better diplomatic relations. Political ties seem to be more tied to international trends, such as the war in Ukraine and American foreign policy. In the case of Taiwan, so far economic relations do not have a strong relationship between political ties with Central and Eastern Europe. In many cases, major Taiwanese multinational companies with FDI in Europe also have large economic footprints in the PRC, and therefore would rather downplay their Taiwanese identity. Despite this constraint, Szunomár concludes that increased Taiwanese investments could contribute to better political relations if Taiwan leverages its unique high-end technology and innovative expertise in fields such as the semiconductor industry. This type of investment would have the potential to differentiate Taiwan economic engagement from China.  

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2023 Intern Zaki Atia.

To receive all our updates directly in your inbox you can subscribe by pressing the button below.