European powers must do more to dissuade China from invading Taiwan, including being prepared to unleash painful economic sanctions and train Taiwanese troops, the former head of NATO said Thursday.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is visiting Taipei, said European and NATO powers were “too naive” in the run-up to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and risked repeating the same mistake with Beijing.
Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled democracy as part of its territory to be taken one day.
“The world hasn’t so far paid sufficient attention to the tensions in the Taiwan Strait,” Rasmussen told reporters.
“And we should realise that the conflict between China and Taiwan has, and will have, global repercussions. So we have a global interest in preventing those tensions from escalating into an armed conflict.”
Rasmussen argued that while the United States must remain Taiwan’s primary military ally, European and NATO powers should be prepared to put in place policies that will make Beijing “think twice” about an invasion.
“I think we should react determinedly if China were to attack Taiwan, and we should replace strategic ambiguity with strategic clarity,” he said.
In the years leading up to Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour, European powers began training Ukrainian troops.
“We could do exactly the same with servicemen and women from Taiwan, we could conduct such training and exercises on European soil,” Rasmussen said.
He added that military and cyber defence equipment could be shared “to make Taiwan capable to defend itself by itself”.
But above all, he argued, Europe’s contributions would need to be “comprehensive and profound sanctions against China” in the event of an invasion.
‘Too weak, too accommodating’
Rasmussen conceded that such sanctions would hit European nations hard because China is so deeply embedded within the global economy.
But he said he believed Russia’s war in Ukraine had begun a shift within European powers when it came to dependence on autocracies.
“We have built a Europe based on security provided by the United States, cheap goods from China and cheap gas from Russia. That model doesn’t work any longer,” he argued.
“We should not repeat this mistake by being too weak, too accommodating when it comes to China,” he added.
President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive leader in a generation, has made clear that what he calls the “reunification” of Taiwan cannot be passed on to future generations.
Last year saw a spike in tensions as Beijing ramped up military pressure and launched its largest war games in decades to protest against a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.
China opposes any official exchanges with Taiwan, and has reacted with growing anger at a flurry of visits by Western politicians to the island.
Asked about Rasmussen’s visit, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday that “any attempts to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ are doomed to fail”.