Canary in the Coalmine: Hong Kong and Taiwan's Significance for Germany's China Strategy

IED Event in Berlin, Germany


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Hong Kong and Taiwan's Significance for Germany's China Strategy

Canary in the Coalmine: Hong Kong and Taiwan's Significance for Germany's China Strategy, IED Event in Berlin


Ray Wong
Freiheit für Hongkong e.V.

Sam Goodman
Hong Kong Watch


Boris Mijatovic
Member of the German Bundestag, The Greens

Ulrich Lechte
Member of the German Bundestag, FDP

Engin Ergolu
MEP, Renew Europe

Frank Müller-Rosentritt
Member of the German Bundestag, FDP

Noah Barkin
German Marshall Fund & Rhodium Group

Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Newsweek Journalist

Prof. Amy Siu
Freiheit für Hongkong e.V.

Prof. Shieh Jhy-wey
Representative of Taiwan in Germany



Panel 1 - Germany’s New China Strategy: How do we stand by our principles?

Lunch break

Panel 2 - What are Hong Kong and Taiwan’s significance for the EU and the International Order?

Event report

The IED's "Canary in the Coalmine" conference, focusing on EU-China relations and the significant roles of Hong Kong and Taiwan, highlighted critical geopolitical challenges. The metaphor of the "canary in the coalmine" was used to illustrate how Hong Kong and Taiwan serve as early indicators of broader issues in EU-China relations. The conference discussed Europe's dependencies on China and the repercussions of China's policies in Hong Kong and Taiwan, including breaches of international law and human rights.

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Canary in the Coalmine

Coal country people are familiar with this expression. The canary was the bird taken by the miners to be alerted of gaz emanation who provoque explosions. If the canary stop singing and dies, it means that gaz is escaping and an explosion is to be expected at the next sparkle from the pick axe hit. Well this is the metaphor that MEP Engin Eroglu have chosen for this EU-China conference under the scope of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

To carry the coal mine metaphor, China would be the entire mine, and the coal, the benefits that businesses from across the EU gain from the relationship with this single party ruled country.

And The canary ? The one that warns you of the danger and dies before an explosion, it is Hong Kong and Taiwan of course. They accompany us down there but they are the first one to suffer from the great of European Miners payed daily with the amount of coal they bring back to the shore.

To push even further on the underground metaphor, in Greece ( which is a coal country, you can find coal mine next to the mythical Mount Olympus) gave us an allegory with those caves, under Plato’s brilliant mind. To link his allegory to our conference, well the cave would be the whole EU relations with China, the man facing the wall is the EU, facing its own believes and interpretations. The shadows that afraid us are the several abuses china does - ouïgour repression, abuse of monopoly position, restriction of access to its market, pressures on Taiwan HK and Tibet. As long as the EU does not reach the sun light, China plays with those shadows to tame us with our indefinite worries to maintain interdependence through trade and ignoring our values, what we, as europeans, effectively care about. Freedom of the press, of expression and reunion, the things we find under the sunlight according to Plato.

 Freeing our own self from those pressures and fears of shadows, to courageously take our destiny in hand, denounce oppression that we, and other, suffered to live a free life.

Back to reality, that means that the European Union and its member states have created their own dependencies on the Chinese production system. We invested for very long, hoping that their market would be as open to us, as ours are open to them. But except Louis Vuitton and Mercedes Benz it is very hard to tell which EU country or business enjoy full reciprocity with China.

The perspective of reaching this billion + customer market and importing cheap products have shut us up regarding major breach in our values vis à vis some of its immediate neighbors.

Rule of law is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. When a state take a pledge toward the other one in accordance to international law, it is expected that both parties abide to it. In Hong Kong, China took the engagement to respect the one country two systems. But once it took confortable sit at the WTO and Shanghai became as accepted globally as Hong Kong’s, then, there was no reason to respect this engagement. Who then, was in position to stop the repression that felt upon Hong Kong, to get this former British Comptoir in the line. Today with the National Security Law, any individual, HKger or not, can be persecuted for its deeds, present and past, if it goes against the CCP rules.

  • The EU cannot remain blind to this unlawful behavior. This must have consequences.

  • The EU stand for its allies, EU response to the Russian agression in Ukraine was firm and clear. The union mobilized and united was determinant in Ukraine courageous response. Would it be the same if it happened over there, in Taiwan tomorrow ?

  • Would Ursula Von Der Leyen visit twice a year the war torn country ?

  • Would the Taiwan Strait become like the black sea ? The grains like the Micro Chips ?

« Comparaison n’est pas raison » says the French adage, but the distance and the economic relevance would influence a European response.According to MEP Engin Eroglu, the European Union through its high representative Josep Borell appeared too submissive toward China, and its Human Rights record. Yet another symptom of the lack of convergence even within the European Commission. What is stopping the European Union to call it as it is ? Who’s the most dependent on the other ?

As IED Vice-President Gabi Schmidt stated « It is time to call Taiwan a country, and Taïpeï high representative an ambassador.

Countries like Germany, Hungary and many more were highly dependent on Russian gaz, yet in a year or even less, the EU managed to reduce almost entirely its dependence on russia, and getting all its interest out of the country. Many European country have an eminent figure on the payroll of Chinese influence, just like former PM François Fillon and Chancellor Schroeder with Gazprom and Russia.

Immediate decoupling of our economies is not a goal at all. But de-risk and diversify is an objective to avoid doing the same mistakes again.

The European Union, is a union of values, so values over short term gains must be the compass of our partnerships. If we find ourselves dependent on human rights breaking countries our clear objective is to work the hardest to reduce this dependency as fast as possible. If we believe MEP Eroglu « In 10 years we could totally get rid of our dependency on China. Who needs Tik Tok to live ? »

For too long, and about too many issues we have turn a blind eye on Chinese behavior. Behavior that we would never have tolerate with any EU member state. We cannot have double standard : Ouyghour, Tibet, Hong-Kong, Taïwan, the chinese communist party actions toward individuals like Jack Ma or former first secretary Hu Jintao was unacceptable and contrary to Human Rights law.

In this note on EU-China policy written under the light of the IED conference « Canary in the Coalmine: Hong Kong and Taiwan's Significance for Germany's China Strategy » the IED express its critical standpoint on EU-China relationship and the comprehensive position vis à vis Taiwan and Hong Kong. Also the position of our German panelists on the wake of the first official German chinese policy doctrine.

Expressing what is the democrats stand point on this highly strategic issue. IED will try to summarize the global situation and the stakes for Hon Kong and Taiwan as well as recommendations for the diplomatic position in a Democratic led EU.

On China

  • China grapples with a significant decline in demography, raising concerns about an aging population and its potential impact on the labor force, production capacity and economic dynamics.

  • The construction sector in China faces challenges with a noticeable decline, indicating economic vulnerabilities and the need for state intervention.

  • The "zero-covid policy" has contributed to a slowdown in the Chinese economy, prompting reevaluation of its effectiveness starting a global decoupling strategy.

  • The removal of term limits for the president signals a concentration of power, raising questions about the country's political trajectory and the implications for governance.

  • China’s implementation of a social score system restricts public freedom, fostering a climate of surveillance and control with deterioration of individual liberties.

  • Concerns arise as China breaks its promise on Hong Kong's "one country, two systems," leading to a curtailment of autonomy and freedoms in the region.

  • China’s aggressive stance towards Taiwan raises tensions in the region, this behavior menace predictions for the trajectory of global industrial production and raise risks for global trade routes.

On Hong-Kong

  • IED salute the brave protesters who courageously defended their rights in Hong Kong.

  • A heartfelt reminder of Free Jimmy Lee, underlining the plight of individuals facing injustice.

  • Hong Kong stands as a symbol of China's unreliability, casting doubt on commitments toward other regions.

  • A return to the "one country, two systems" framework for Hong Kong is unrealistic.

  • Urgent consideration for a special status for Hong Kong refugees, recognizing the unique challenges they face.

On Taïwan

Call for EU recognition of Taiwan as an independent country :

Condemning China's ongoing military pressure tactics, diplomatic dialogue and respect for international norms should guide Taiwan-China Relationship

  • Safeguard freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait, international water are accessible to every ship.

  • Protection of the integrity of Taiwan's democratic processes, the EU must monitor elections closely.

  • Recognizing Taiwan's values as synonymous with EU values, support for freedom of the press, assembly, and trade on the island.

From Germany

  • The country unveils its first Germany-China relations policy, signaling a shift in diplomatic approach in favor of stability and predictability.

  • Striving for equilibrium, Germany seeks to balance its commitment for economic interests with respect of Human Rights in its dealings with China.

  • Addressing economic vulnerabilities, Germany aims to decrease reliance on China's cheap labor and production capacity.

  • To mitigate risks, Germany emphasizes derisking investments by diversifying, especially in the face of potential economic instability in China.

  • A key focus is on combating disinformation and upholding privacy rights, reflecting Germany's commitment to information integrity.

  • Prioritizing minority protection, Germany's policy places special emphasis on safeguarding the rights and well-being of vulnerable communities.

  • Within the government coalition clear divergences emerge between SPD and FDP, showcasing distinct approaches to China and its policies.

From the EU

  • Intensifying scrutiny on the ecological impact of China's production and trade, aiming for a more sustainable and environmentally responsible collaboration.

  • Acknowledging the need for strategic vigilance, the EU is now paying close attention to potential security challenges, and abuses of monopoly positions, particularly concerning critical materials.

  • Initiating a value-based approach inEU-China relationship, prioritizing ethical considerations and aligning partnerships with shared principles.

  • Drafting the most environmentally respectful free trade agreement with Taiwan, highlighting a commitment to eco-friendly trade practices.

  • Deepening microchip research and production partnerships with Taiwan, fostering innovation and reinforcing its position in the global tech landscape.

  • Setting a 10-year objective to derisk investments in China, complemented by operational recommendations to ensure resilience and adaptability in the economic landscape.

Events overview

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