On June 22, Lithuania became the first EU country to announce that it would donate COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan. Its shipment of 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Taiwan on Saturday last week, two months ahead of its due date. On July 16, Slovakia announced that it would donate 10,000 doses of the vaccine to Taiwan and plans to send a large delegation here next month. Last Monday, the Czech cabinet followed suit by announcing a donation of 30,000 doses to Taiwan.
As well as being EU member states, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic share their Cold War histories. These countries existed in an eastern European region ruled by the Communists, either occupied or controlled by the Soviet Union. Now that these countries are committed to helping Taiwan, we must seize this opportunity to strengthen ties with them.
Some countries in Soviet-controlled eastern Europe shared borders with European democracies. They had long been nurtured by Western culture and were no strangers to democracy. Although they were brought under Communist control at the end of World War II, their Soviet-backed regimes were unpopular.
In the 1990s, under the wave of revolutions in the countries of Eastern Europe, followed by a process of decommunization, the communist regime and the planned economies were abandoned, giving way to democratic governance and economies free. The pain and the cost of the transition implied by this political and economic change have led the peoples of these countries to cherish all the more the democracy they have today. They are often more committed than the citizens of Western European democracies in their opposition to authoritarian rule and their determination never to turn back.
Lithuania’s engagement with Taiwan shows how a small country with a small population can nonetheless refuse to bow under pressure from the great powers. The Foreign Ministry announced last week that it would establish a Taiwanese representative office in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. It will be our first representative office in Europe to be established under the name Taiwan, and the first Taiwanese representative office to be established in a country that maintains diplomatic relations with China.
After establishing an office in Slovakia in 2003, it is a significant diplomatic achievement for Taiwan to open another representative office in Europe 18 years later. Moreover, establishing a new presence on behalf of Taiwan, freed from the shackles of a “one China”, is an example for other countries who wish to engage with us in the same way.
Pressure from China has forced Taiwan to keep a low profile when negotiating diplomatic breakthroughs with other countries. However, even before Taiwan announced the creation of the new office, Lithuania said in March that it planned to establish a representative office in Taiwan with a view to expanding relations.
By approving offices in each other’s countries, Lithuania refused to be influenced by China and also withdrew from the Beijing-led “17 + 1” regional cooperation mechanism with Central European countries and eastern.
These decisions show the international community how determined a small country can be when it refuses to be intimidated or tempted by Beijing’s sticks and carrots. When Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis announced his country’s vaccine donation to Taiwan on June 22, he said “freedom-loving people should look out for each other.”
Although Lithuania maintains diplomatic relations with China, it has left no doubt that it intends to move closer to Taiwan while keeping its distance from China.
In his July 19 column in the British newspaper The Times, Edward Lucas praised Lithuania for leading the way in the fight against China and its dictatorship, saying Lithuania deserved more substantial support from its allies in the liberal democratic world. Lithuania’s image as a country that refuses to back down has put it in the international spotlight, gaining geopolitical support from democratic countries as it faces threats from Russia.
The Czech Republic, another country east of the Iron Curtain, is also looking to engage with Taiwan. Rejecting threats from Beijing, Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil led an 89-member delegation to Taiwan last August to engage in substantial cooperation with the country. Vystrcil’s speech at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on September 1 last year – in which he said in Mandarin, “I am a Taiwanese” – was moving for government and opposition lawmakers, and inspired a deep sense of democratic friendship.
Through his actions, Vystrcil expressed his commitment to safeguard democracy. His predecessor as President of the Czech Senate, Jaroslav Kubera, who was a friend of Taiwan, died suddenly on January 20 last year, on the eve of his planned visit to Taiwan. His widow then revealed that the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic sent Kubera a letter warning him to cancel his visit to Taiwan. Barely six months later, his successor made Kubera’s wish come true by leading a delegation to Taiwan.
This sequence of events reflects the collective atmosphere of antipathy towards Beijing in Czech society, which even China’s friendly Czech government finds it difficult to challenge. The election of the Czech Senate in October last year was a landslide victory for the then opposition camp, to which Vystrcil belongs, strengthening its dominance in the upper house, and the decision of the Czech Cabinet to make donating vaccines to Taiwan is an indication of where that nation’s politics are headed.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) reacted to Vystrcil’s support for Taiwan by calling it an attempt to turn against the 1.4 billion Chinese and saying that Vystrcil “would pay a heavy price”. Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said her country could not accept China’s threat against the Czech Republic and that Slovakia would support its neighbor.
The two countries, which were united as one Czechoslovakia until their peaceful separation in 1993, can truly be called sister nations. Slovakia followed in the footsteps of the Czech Republic in favor of Taiwan by announcing that it would donate vaccines to Taiwan. In Central and Eastern Europe, China’s frequent diplomatic coercion on EU countries has had the unintended effect of arousing dark memories of the Communist regime, except that the Soviet “Big Brother” has been replaced by the “warriors”. wolves’ from China.
Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic gave Taiwan vaccines in exchange for masks and other medical supplies last year. Donations back and forth may seem limited, but this “virtuous circle” has not only warmed the hearts of every nation, but also shows that these former communist countries of Eastern Europe are looking to the Indo-Pacific region in the search for alliances with democratic partners. .
22 years ago Taiwan established diplomatic relations with Macedonia, now known as North Macedonia, which is in the same region. These ties ended before three years had passed. Now that a new strategic space is opening up in Europe, these former communist countries are of capital importance. If Taiwan wants to play an international role and stand up against China, it should make more efforts to study Eastern Europe.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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