Estonia should cautiously move "step by step" towards recognizing Taiwan, Riigikogu member Madis Milling (Reform) said on Monday during a working visit to the island. Opening a Taiwanese representation in Estonia could become a long-term goal.
Milling is one of two Estonian Riigikogu members participating in a 10-member delegation from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Taiwan this week. The members will meet with Taiwanese leaders, discuss strengthening relations and visit the 2021 Open Parliament Forum.
Milling and fellow MP Jüri Jaanson (Reform) are members of the Riigikogu's Estonia-Taiwan Friendship Group.
In an interview with ERR on Monday, Milling said a long-term goal could be to open a Taiwanese representation in Estonia and diplomatic recognition.
"Personally, I want to hope so. Seeing the commitment of the Taiwanese people to democracy - it is still very important for them. But, of course, the question is broader, not just in Estonia, but in the European Union. Every decision must have a well-thought-out analysis of what it entails. What are the pros and cons of the decision? It's pragmatic math," he told ERR.
Milling said Estonia agreed on its relationship with China during Lennart Meri's presidency (1992-2001). Estonia also follows the EU's policy of recognizing the "One China" policy, which says there is only one sovereign state and that Taiwan is part of China.
"But this does not mean that we cannot develop all kinds of relations with Taiwan," he added.
Taiwan has become a topic of discussion in the Baltic states after Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a "representative office" - a de facto embassy - using the name Taiwan rather than the capital Taipei. The office will not have diplomatic status and will focus on economic cooperation.
Relations between China and Lithuania have soured since then and last week the Chinese embassy in Vilnius suspended the provision of consular services.
After Vilnius made the announcement earlier this year, questions have been asked if Estonia will also alter its relationship with China and Taiwan.
Milling said it is sensible to develop relations with Taiwan step by step.
"We see the consequences of this [Lithuania's actions]. The question is always whether it is necessary to start a war, the outcome of which you cannot predict," he said.
"But, personally, I together with Jüri Jaanson, have always expressed the opinion that it must be approached step by step, like a drop of water falling on a stone and eventually making a hole."
He gave an example: "One tangible example is the soon-to-be-amended amendment to the Traffic Act in Estonia, which provides an opportunity to recognize Taiwanese drivers licenses in Estonia."
Speaking about the visit so far, Milling told ERR the delegation has already met with the Taiwanese president and foreign minister and will later meet the premier.
"It is very easy for us to understand each other at meetings because common concerns unite. Both Estonia and Taiwan have an aggressive neighbor," said Milling.
ERR asked if Estonia could offer assistance if Taiwan was to come under attack from China, but Milling said this kind of action is not on the table.
"When we talk about military terms, Estonia's help, as such, is not relevant here. Our support is still political and we stand for justice together with our allies. When we talk about allies, we are looking primarily at the United States," he said.
He said, to some extent, the Taiwanese people have already grown used to China's aggressive rhetoric.
"At the political level, of course, it is viewed with great concern, but the local people are not very afraid, because, on a human level, there is a belief that using military aggression to conquer Taiwan is a step too far even for China," he said.
Baltic reception in Taiwan
The Baltic delegation, which includes six Lithuanians and two members each from Latvia and Estonia, arrived in Taipei on Sunday.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-Wen welcomed the Baltic delegation and wrote on social media: "We are grateful for your support & excited to explore opportunities for broader cooperation based on our shared values."
A warm welcome to the delegation of parliamentarians from #Lithuania , #Latvia & #Estonia on your visit to #Taiwan . We are grateful for your support & excited to explore opportunities for broader cooperation based on our shared values. pic.twitter.com/3zapwuDo3o— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) November 29, 2021
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of ROC (Taiwan) wrote that "freedom, democracy and human rights" were "high on the menu" during a banquet for the Baltic delegation on their arrival to Taipei.
"We're grateful for the support of our like-minded friends & thank them for courageously choosing to #StandWithTaiwan," the ministry wrote.
Freedom, democracy & human rights were high on the menu at the banquet held by Minister Wu for the delegation of MPs from #Estonia, #Latvia & #Lithuania. We're grateful for the support of our like-minded friends & thank them for courageously choosing to #StandWithTaiwan. pic.twitter.com/xn7bDKQbnA— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) (@MOFA_Taiwan) November 29, 2021
Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reported after Vilnius opened Taiwan's de facto embassy last week, Lithuanians living in Taipei have noticed signs of gratitude from the people there.
Foreign minister: Estonia has not considered opening representative office
Asked if Estonia will open a Taiwanese representative office, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) said on Monday this has not been considered.
She said Estonia communicates with China and has relations with Taiwan within the "One China Policy" framework. Estonia also has additional relations with Taipei in the economic and cultural sectors.
"We have a number of practical activities, but we have not considered opening a representative office and neither side has shown any particular interest in it. At the same time, this has not prevented a relationship from developing," she said.
"Estonia does not currently plan to review this policy," Liimets added.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add a comment from Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets.
Editor: Helen Wright