A Two-Way Street: Europe Must Support Taiwan if We Support Ukraine

A Two-Way Street: Europe Must Support Taiwan if We Support Ukraine

Despite America’s consistent and generational support to Europe, the idea of them sacrificing close to as much as what we have sacrificed for them appears unlikely.


For more than a year now, the question of whether Taiwan is next if Russia is allowed to take over Ukraine has been repeatedly asked. Some have argued that defeating Russia may save Taiwan, while others have urged against equating the actions taken by Vladimir Putin with the possible ones that Xi Jinping may take.

The conversation is worth having. There are merits to the assertion that in responding to the invasion of Ukraine, the West can demonstrate that it is a cohesive and effective force. Likewise, there are also merits to the claim that the strategic significance of Ukraine and Taiwan—as well as the threats posed by China and Russia—are intrinsically different.


Yet there is another discussion that is equally, if not more, important. It centers around the question: would the West respond with equal determination if China invades Taiwan? Today, alarmingly, it seems unlikely.

On April 26, China’s Xi Jinping and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy held their first war phone call, leading to much speculation regarding China’s role as a potential global peacemaker. Such speculation, understandably so, worried and frustrated many in the United States. These ill feelings originate not solely from the fact that China would likely prioritize Russian interests, but also because if China, the United States’ biggest economic and political competitor, were to become the peacemaker of the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II then what would that mean for the state of global affairs and the position held by the United States?

What appears evident is that the illustrated harms faced by China due to Ukraine’s propped-up military resilience exist mostly in the imagination of American think tankers and politicians. Realizing this does not require getting inside the heads of Chinese officials. The strength of the Sino-European relationship is illuminating enough.

Consider that while in the United States we talk about China and Russia as simultaneous threats, in France, Emmanuel Macron comes back from his Beijing visit saying that the European Union will not become a U.S. “vassal,” claiming that the union must resist involvement in U.S.-China disputes over Taiwan. German companies, despite Washington’s attempts to isolate Beijing, continue to venture into China out of economic necessity. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU wants to “de-risk” but not “de-couple” from Beijing—particularly given a 98 percent dependency on China for rare earth minerals. Other examples abound.

On the other hand, among Republican senators, for instance, the “China is Watching” claim has been perpetually shrieked. Yet not even the most vocal China hawks have made a significant push to have European statesmen or, at the very least, Ukraine, publicly state that China should be watching closely or that China-led peace deals should be treated as ridiculous. In refusing to amount such opposition, the same individuals that argue that China and Russia are parts of the same threat are exhibiting either incompetence or dishonesty. If China and Russia are indeed two sides of the same coin, as they suggest, then why is it that Americans are alone in treating them as such?

In light of these concerns, on March 2, I asked Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Italian ambassador Mariangela Zappia, and the Danish ambassador Christina Markus Lassen two simple questions: is China our biggest threat in the long-term, and is Taiwan an independent country?

The Irish ambassador responded by saying that “we have to be careful with pushing Russia and China into a corner,” completely inverting the logic used by those concerned with Chinese expansion in the United States, as she implied that cooperation with China is worth pursuing. The real threats, Nason claimed, are “the climate crisis and the nuclear threat.”

Similarly, both the Italian and the Danish ambassadors refused to make statements about whether Taiwan is an independent country, with the Italian ambassador claiming that “cooperation with China is benefitting all of us” and that “China is a rival in values” that follows a “predatory approach to governance.”

If the direct responses from three ambassadors and other comments by EU leaders (Macron, von der Leyen, etc.) are anything to go by, then in the eyes of a good number of European leaders, China is far from perfect but the most prescient threat they face is Russian. Intelligently, unlike Washington, they have been able to prioritize their resources and efforts in accordance with their needs. As such, Europe finds itself in what is really a favorable position: Europeans can rely on American assistance vis-à-vis Russia, but ensure that when it comes to playing in a different arena—primarily the Indo-Pacific—they can sit down and observe.

Meanwhile, when the same logic is used in the United States by those who argue that we must not push Russia toward China and that we must prioritize deterring America’s—not Europe’s—main threat, our partners from across the Atlantic are quick to display their indignation.

Aside from Russia, the status quo leaves the United States in the worst position. Despite our consistent and generational support to Europe, the idea of them sacrificing close to as much as what we have sacrificed for them seems implausible.

If countries were people, this would be labeled a toxic relationship. But countries are not people, they are countries. When cleansed from rhetoric, the reality is that the Europeans are not our friends, they are our allies—in specific scenarios under specific circumstances.

If the United States wants to deter China, we need our European partners to express with the same confidence seen regarding Ukraine that China cannot be a peacemaker, and that Chinese expansion poses a threat to them and their partners.

Some may be quick to suggest that in 2020, China became the EU’s main trading partner, meaning that they would never take a stronger position. Still, the reality is that in 2021, according to the EU itself, the United States is just 1.5 percent away from China in terms of trading goods, and militarily, they have grown accustomed to our support.

So, yes, we can push, just like China does.

At the minimum, individual European leaders should reciprocate what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said four months ago when he said that “China doesn't have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine.” Additionally, Washington must pressure Europeans into exhibiting their opposition to Chinese expansion as a precondition for increased, or even continued, support. It is that simple.

If Europe cannot do this, if they continue to be characterized by softness toward China, then they are taking America’s defense of their sovereignty for granted. It is essential then to delineate our priorities—weakening China matters more to us than weakening Russia—and openly emphasize that a refusal to oppose Chinese expansionary efforts is disloyalty toward us. Given the nature of reciprocity, this is not too harsh; it is reasonable.

If pursued effectively, this framework could lead to the United States spending and focusing less on Ukraine, or European countries taking stronger positions regarding China. Both options are better than the status quo.

To prevent future conflict, the West must constrain the Chinese Communist Party’s expansionary efforts. To do this, we do not just need Europe, but we also need them more than they need us in Ukraine. They know this, and we should make them act like it.

Like China, it is time that we place conditions and set standards when cooperating. We must let Europe know that it is a two-way street— if we stand with them, they must demonstrate that they will stand with us.

Juan P. Villasmil “J.P. Ballard” is a commentator and analyst who often writes about American culture, foreign policy, and political philosophy. He has been featured in The American Spectator, The National Interest, The Wall Street Journal, International Policy Digest, Fox News, Telemundo, MSNBC, and others.

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