Kalle Laanet: Movement between Tallinn and Taipei should be two-way

Kalle Laanet (Reform).
Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia has been the standard-bearer of comprehensive support for Ukraine both in Europe and the entire free world. Now comes the time to take another clear position, in standing with Taiwan, which has to exist alongside harassment and threats from another authoritarian superpower, former Minister of Defense and current Riigikogu MP Kalle Laanet writes.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) military exercises surrounding the island nation of Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC), have brought the into the news in the small, remote country of Estonia and in the whole free world. 

This country is far away: The distance from Tallinn to Taiwan's capital, Taipei, is more than 8,000km, as the crow flies. Most of us in Estonia have never been that far from home.

On the other side of the globe, the nation of Taiwan, situated on the island of Formosa - today also simply known as Taiwan, till lies a quarter of the distance of the Earths' circumference, from Estonia. It is certainly far away, but is it also so small?

In terms of area, Taiwan is a fifth, or 20 percent smaller, than Estonia, but it has 20 times more people, at well over 23 million. However, China's Taiwan policy has forced many people and businesses to leave their homes, in order to gain more certainty about the future. These go mostly to the U.S.

Taiwan's trump card in the world market is its microchips, small items yet which a large proportion of people today can no longer do without. They can be found in computers, telephones, household appliances, cars, planes, ships, agricultural machines, all kinds of production equipment, pet identification, trade, entertainment...

There are few areas of life left, where no microchip is somewhere in use. We in " Maarjamaa" (Terra Mariana, a name for late medieval territory corresponding to present-day Estonia and Latvia-ed.) may not have such a powerful economic weapon at our disposal, but still, Taiwan's situation is more anxious and uncertain, next to an aggressor and war zone, than ours is.

This may sound like a curiosity, and I hesitated to write it, but Russia's war in Ukraine has on the one hand encouraged China to show more resolve in its "one China policy," yet on the other hand, it has just turned the free world's attention to Taiwan. 

An analogy would be the idea that Eastern Europe had also seemed distant, in other parts of the world, until recently, as if it was "not our concern".

Of course, it should be noted that relations between China and Russia do not only concern Taiwan - which is not a small country compared to Estonia, but is certainly so on the world stage - but still more powerful countries. So, here and there, you can read doubts or even opinions that, resulting from Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin's fears, China has started to back Russia in the matter of the Kuril Islands (formerly Japanese territory but occupied by the Soviet Union, and its successor state the Russian Federation, since 1945-ed.). 

However, this is on the face of it an unclear, and nowhere near as sharp of a problem, as is the Taiwan issue. Beijing has publicly stated that the substance of its ongoing exercises is rehearsal military conquest of Taiwan.

In any case, how is it our business? The answer to this is clear and well argued. Philosophically, it should be recakked that the term "global village" was introduced by a Canadian, Marshall McLuhan (in the book "The Gutenberg Galaxy"), more than 60 years ago. 

In practice, however, this means that if the U.S. needs allies in its options, such as for aiding Taiwan against any potential Chinese attack, then it is our duty to do so in this matter as well; a small price to pay for our freedom, in supporting our greatest ally.

I remind those debating the issue that there is a similarity between balancing the state budget as there is with going to a cafe or taking a train. If you eat, drink, or take a journey, you will be presented with a bill, for which there is no reasonable reason to refuse to pay.

Economist Andres Arrak said, a long time ago, that the example of a large village could be one where women in burqas freely mix with women in miniskirts, in the same room and in the same company, yet without stoning each other to death.

Heraclitus, who not only thought out, but also wrote down his thoughts, over 2,500 years ago, owns the expression Panta rhei (everything flows, or everything is in a state of flux). 

Estonian thinkers have tended to render this in our mother tongue, by way of explanation, that change, or a lack of permanence, is permanence itself, and this, together with selflessness and the inevitable suffering of individuals and humanity alike, characterize existence, in our environment

In recent decades, the generally peaceful center that is Europe has become a place of horrendous conflict. Rapid change, which itself in turn must change. What, then, must we decide and do in Estonia, in order that Taiwan does not get swallowed up by China (not that that could happen so easily, thanks to U.S. support and support from other allies, of course)?

We have some great role models to follow. Our closest allies, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovakia, have already expressed their attitudes unequivocally. 

Our even closer neighbor, Lithuania, was one of the first bold states to open a Taiwanese diplomatic mission, back in 2021. While since then, the diplomatic mission between the PRC and Lithuania has been downgraded in status, while the PRC has in turn suspended all imports from Lithuania, let's examine the Czech Republic.

The recent visit to Taiwan by Markéta Pekarová Adamová, Speaker of the Czech Parliament's lower house, attracted a lot of media attention. What did this mean for the Czechs? 

China canceled a number of tours to that country by Czech musicians, while a Chinese organization canceled its order to purchase a piano from the well-known Czech manufacturer, Petrof. You can say this is a start. But more generally?

Pekarová Adamová highlighted Taiwan's plan to support Czech-Taiwanese joint projects, worth US$33 million. In addition, she stressed that Czech-Taiwanese friendship is based on freedom, democracy, human rights - values ​​that cannot be bought with economic agreements or sanctions.

Again, not only this, but Pekarová Adamová highlighted the hard-earned freedoms the Czech Republic enjoys, while at the same time she emphasized the uncertain future of a continent threatened by populism and authoritarianism, i.e. Europe itself.

The so-called one-China policy the PRC follows is an issue that drives a wedge between EU countries, playing them off against each other. In a sense, as has already happened with Hungary in the EU, and with Hungary and Turkey in NATO, in fact. 

Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have taken a clear stance on that policy as aimed at this corner of the world.

Estonia has been the flag bearer in Europe, and the entire free world, of comprehensive support for Ukraine, in so doing creating a common front against Russian ambitions, which ride roughshod over the freedoms and rights of people and nations. 

Now is the time to take a clear position again, in order to stand behind a friendly, free country living under the harassment and threats from another authoritarian major power – namely the ROC, or Taiwan.

What about the fact that Estonia practically does not participate in Taiwan's military assistance? We have the chance to be on the right side of history. This is how one should act in personal and friendship relationships, and this is how one behaves in allied relations also.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaupo Meiel

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