Beyond the Dumpling Alliance
CEIAS: Tracking Taiwan’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Matej Šimalčík, Alfred Gerstl, Dominika Remžová. AIES Senior Advisor Dr. Alfred Gerstl contributed to the paper as co-editor.
Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries are key drivers of developments in EU-Taiwan relations. They were responsible for almost 60% of all 2022 interactions between Taiwan and EU actors (member states and EU institutions). This was a major contribution to a more active EU-Taiwan relationship, where the number of interactions across various domains has increased more than seven-fold since 2019.
There is a need to differentiate between different types of CEE actors. Regional states have differing views of Taiwan and China, which in turn influences their willingness to engage with Taiwan on political and even economic levels.
“Vanguards” are the CEE members of the so-called “Dumpling Alliance” — Czechia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland — which have greater levels of political and economic relations with Taiwan. All four countries have representations in Taiwan, and vice versa. Whilst Czechia and Lithuania are more vocal in their support for Taiwan, Poland and Slovakia pursue a practicality-driven approach.
“Pragmatists” are the CEE countries with strong economic but weak political links to Taiwan. Only Austria and Hungary are in this category, with the latter being an interesting example of having significant trade and investment relations but a rather unwelcoming political climate.
The rest of CEE belongs to the category of “Laggards”, which have weak political and economic links to Taiwan. Nevertheless, a degree of differentiation is required as some countries are more supportive than others, albeit this support is at present limited mainly to rhetorical and symbolic gestures, while lacking substance.
Past elections in CEE countries have shown that a change in government can lead to the strengthening or weakening of relations with Taiwan. For further deepening of ties with Taiwan, a strong sense of internal motivation is required rather than solely following external pressures.
In most CEE countries, legislatures are significantly more active in their outreach to Taiwan than executive branches. This follows a wider trend at the EU level, with parliamentary diplomacy having long been the main tool of European engagement with Taiwan due to parliamentarians facing less constraint in their activities compared to governmental representatives.
Austria is the only CEE country that has a trade surplus with Taiwan. The rest have trade deficits to varying degrees. Exports are dominated by machinery. The majority of imports are of machinery and electronics, with metals being dominant as well.
At the moment, Taiwanese investment is located predominantly in Czechia and Hungary, followed by Slovakia and Poland. Cooperation in innovative sectors (semiconductors, blockchain, space technology) and on start-up financing opens new avenues for future investment activity.
Although there are a variety of para-diplomatic ties between Taiwan and CEE states, para-diplomacy is an underutilized tool in CEE-Taiwan relations. Local governments can act as catalysts of engagement with Taiwan and contribute to domestic debates about the meaning of One-China policy.
In most CEE countries, there is a lack of knowledge about Taiwan as well as East Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. NGO actors and think tanks are well positioned to inform the broad public and decision-makers about Taiwan and the region at large.
CEE countries need to devise specific ideas for projects to be implemented in partnership with Taiwan. Having a clear idea about what are their interests and how to achieve them is a precursor to building sustainable ties with Taiwan.
An important motive for seeking closer engagement with Taiwan is “expectations fatigue” towards China. Consequently, Taiwan needs to fulfill its (economic) pledges in order to demonstrate that having relations with it brings long-term benefits. Successful outcomes of cooperation will convince more countries to start engaging with Taiwan.
Taiwan should now favor deepening of existing relations rather than stretching its activity to cover the CEE region in its entirety. Focused activity can help to save limited resources and increase the political and diplomatic returns for Taiwan.