You want to defend Democracy, Mr. Rasmussen? Introduce a dedicated Property Tax

In an op-ed for The Guardian, former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls on Europe to

stand up for Taiwan’s self-determination and treat it as a fully-fledged member of the alliance of democracies. In a globally interdependent world, failure to defend our values in east Asia and beyond will eventually lead to the erosion of those same values at home.

The headline – (Now Europe must defend Taiwan) – is more spectacular than Rasmussen’s actual text, where the man who led the West’s military alliance from summer 2009 to fall 2014 doesn’t exactly call for a formal military alliance with Taiwan. As far as military cooperation is concerned, his op-ed remains vague.

It does, however, make tangible demands, by citing American measures in support of Taiwan as examples for Europe, or by accusing European governments of allowing China to bully them into accept its version of Taiwan’s status. Rasmussen also encourages the European Union’s incoming leadership to start practical measures to strengthen Taiwan’s position economically.

Op-eds like these are icebreakers – this one doesn‘t touch on “taboo” issues, at least not yet. And it remains to be seen if Rasmussen is up to a stronger European voice and economic policy in Taiwan‘s favor, or to full military cooperation. If the latter is the case, the EU would have a long way to go – it is anything but a “Pacific player”.

In 2014, Rasmussen wrote an op-ed for the Telegraph which was built in a similar way. Back then, he drew on Russia‘s annexation of Crimea and demanded to “invest in defence of democracy.” Now, he is drawing on the obvious crash of China‘s “one-country-two-systems” policy in Hong Kong.

Is Rasmussen‘s op-ed good news? Basically, yes. Taiwan needs support indeed, and supporters don‘t need to be likeable, as long as their support is sustainable. But Rasmussen’s suggestion that perhaps it had been “naive to believe that this erosion of Hong Kong’s democracy was not inevitable” is cute. I don‘t think that Michael Heseltine, the UK’s trade minister back then, gave democracy in Hong Kong much thought when he had his arguments with  Chris Patten.

What seems to become apparent is a rift within Europe. China, obviously, would love to see an ever-more integrated European Union, provided that such a union would collectively sing the correct tune on Beijing‘s policies, and on Taiwan. In western Europe, bigger countries seem to be less concerned about China‘s – or Russia‘s, for that matter – role in Europe than smaller ones, especially the Netherlands, and Denmark. In eastern Europe, things may evolve differently.

Even if sympathetic with, or loyal to Taiwan, Europe‘s ordinary citizens need to be careful when it comes to utterances like Rasmussen‘s. For decades, China has counted as a huge business opportunity, and western companies were only too happy to throw their technology at it. That was in the interest of investors, but not necessarily in the interest of the European workforce. Now, who exactly is expected to invest in the defense of democracy? There isn’t only a rift between countries – there’s one between income groups, too.

As Rasmussen said, in a globally interdependent world, failure to defend our values in east Asia and beyond will eventually lead to the erosion of those same values at home. But the defense of democracy still starts at home.

If the EU – or single countries of it – want to strengthen Europe’s global military role, I have some words of advice for their  leaders, too. Introduce a meaningful property tax to just that end – one that is going to tax you. Show that you are serious about defending democracy.

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Related

Rising aggression against Taiwan, Jan 28, 2017

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