The Baltic States and Taiwan should join hands together under the banner of “The Baltic Way”

  • 2023-02-07
  • Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative of Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

Ukraine’s resilience inspires the world

While most of European countries are still in the holiday mood and my compatriots in Taiwan are celebrating the Lunar New Year, we should never forget the suffering of the Ukrainian people with no end in sight, nor will disregard a pressing military threat posed by Russia against the Baltic States and the countries in the region.  As 2023 begins, Ukraine, though, has not fallen, and it is still fighting.  The resilience and bravery of the Ukrainian people to defend their homeland has moved democracy-and freedom-loving people around the world.  

There is no safe place in war

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen lives lost from missile strikes and battlefield combats, and civilians dying on the streets, in schools, theaters, hospitals and apartment buildings. In the face of war, being alive becomes an unaffordable luxury and the most humble aspiration for the Ukrainian people. What’s happening in Ukraine shows that there is no safe place in war. This is the hard lesson that the people in Ukraine and the rest of the world have to learn from the war initiated by Russia, and by any other aggressors in any part of the world in the future.

The authoritarian regimes of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, and others have been using their military, political, and economic powers to challenge existing world order and expand the scope of their influence at their will. This is creating serious impacts on geostrategic stability around the globe, and causing apprehension across the international community.  As Russian heavy shelling shrouds Ukraine, Europe is still in the middle of a global energy crisis of unprecedented depth and complexity.  Something alarmingly real in the other part of the world deserves a close look.  China’s expansion in Asia and its intensive military harassments of Taiwan continue to challenge the international rules-based order, threatening regional peace and stability, and jeopardizing cross-strait relations.  

 Increasing aggressive Russia and China

As part of China’s strategic ambition of building the world’s largest blue-navy and turning the PLA into a world-class fighting force, the Chinese navy has for years extended its reach far beyond, venturing into the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, where China and Russia held a joint naval exercise - Joint Sea 2017, in July 2017.  As the Baltic Sea has been fraught with geopolitical tension with Russian warplanes and naval vessels operating too close to the borders of coastal states without notification in recent years, Chinese military presence and power projection in the region will only further complicate already tense geopolitical situation and shift the balance of power in the favor of Russia.

China’s growing military threat against Taiwan and expand its military outreach

The First Island Chain, with Taiwan at the center, holds a critical position for global trade and industrial links.  Besides Russia-Ukraine war, countries are also looking seriously at the Chinese and Russian aggressiveness and outward expansion, and therefore adjusting their strategic postures and substantially increasing defense spending.  The 2022 US National Defense Strategy stressed integrated deterrence capabilities against China’s pacing threat.  The US defense budget request is reaching a new high.  Japanese defense budgets of the next five years will increase by 50%.  Australian military expenditures will increase by 8% in June 2023, and the Philippines’s by 9%.

China has long refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan. However, Chinese expansionist behaviors are not just aiming Taiwan, but across the Indo-Pacific region, and becoming the main source of threat against the region’s peace and stability.  The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has been rapidly building up its capabilities, is sending warplanes and warships to harass and coerce Indo-Pacific countries, resulting worrisome tension in the region. China is not only projecting forces to critical locations west of the First Island Chain, including Taiwan Strait, the East and South China Seas, but also attempting to expand the reach of their military activities to the Second Island Chain.

European Union’s and European Parliament’s staunch support of Taiwan

To show grave concern and staunch backing towards Taiwan, the European Parliament (EP) has passed 25 Taiwan-friendly resolutions in the past two years. On January 2023, it adopted two resolutions on annual implementation reports on the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), strongly condemned China’s continued military provocations against Taiwan, reiterated its firm rejection of any unilateral of any unilateral change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The EP also expressed firm solidarity with the people of Taiwan and recognizing Taiwan as a partner that shares the values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.

The EP took a step forward to call on the European Commission to establish strategic cooperation with Taiwan to facilitate a comprehensive enhanced partnership between the EU and Taiwan, including through high-level economic, scientific, cultural, and political interactions; the speedy initiation of preparatory work for a Taiwan-EU bilateral investment agreement; the strengthening of resilient supply chains; and joint efforts on traveling disinformation and external interference.  Furthermore, the resolutions also called on the EU and its member states to cooperate with international partners in helping sustain democracy and freedom in Taiwan and supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Taiwan builds an all-out defense structure

Considering the growing Chinese military threat against Taiwan and the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, Taiwan has been taking active steps to strengthen its self-defense capability and thus ensure the value of democracy and regional peace and stability. In December 2022, the government of Taiwan unveiled a major reform to extend the compulsory conscription program for men born after 2005 from the current four months of mandatory service to a year starting in 2024.  While including measures to expand the country’s civil defense system and more effectively mobilize reservists, the reform will also introduce new training approaches from countries like the U.S. and involve more live drills and ammunition exercises. We have also beefed up the 2023 national defense budget to more than US$19 billion, a nearly 15% increase from 2022’s spending, centering on the enhancement to air and naval combat systems, and force structure adjustment of all-out defense. The effort fully demonstrates Taiwan’s resolution to stay steadfast in holding the value of freedom and democracy, safeguarding the independence and sovereignty.

Taiwan will continue to work with democratic partners to stop authoritarian expansion and aggression, uphold the rules-based international order, and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.  In the meantime, we sincerely urge like-minded countries and democratic allies to show solidarity with Taiwan by calling on China not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region, and to resolve cross-strait differences by peaceful means.

The Baltic Way as the guidance compass

On August 23, 1989, the Baltic Way campaign attracted two million people of the Baltic States holding hands to form a human chain over 600 kilometers long linking three capital cities. It was the turning point for the fight for the independence and freedom of the Baltic States, and to ensure that the democratic systems continue to thrive. In the face of Russia’s and China’s expansion and aggression, despite being thousands miles apart, the Baltic States, the European Union and Taiwan should stand and work together under the spirit and aspiration of “The Baltic Way” to safeguard our independence, sovereignty, and homeland.