German Education and Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger will visit Taiwan next week, on a high-voltage trip that is bound to spark tensions in the relationship between Germany and China. The last time a member of the federal government visited Taiwan was in 1997, 26 years ago. The three-day trip comes at a time of rising geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the West.

The aim of the visit is to strengthen and expand cooperation with Taiwan in science, research and education, according to the Stark-Watzinger Ministry, which insists that the self-governing island is a hotspot for high-tech in general, and a world leader in the development and production of semiconductors, in particular, so Germany is interested in expanding their collaboration. The minister’s team stresses that the trip should not be read in a political key, as a symbol of support for Taiwan, but in terms of content.

However, any visit by Western politicians to the island ends up causing tension and criticism from Beijing, as happened last fall when two delegations from the Bundestag, the German Parliament, traveled to the territory.

The trip by Stark-Watzinger, from the liberal FDP party, highlights a double strategy of the German government, which is in full negotiations to establish a clear policy towards China. While Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is rumored to be planning to visit Beijing in the spring, another member of her government is now traveling to Taiwan.

The preparation of the document that will establish the German strategy against China has been another battlefield between the three members of the government coalition, which collide on numerous issues, from budgetary to industrial, including security. Baerbock, who belongs to the Greens, has been much tougher on China than the Social Democrats in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party.

Scholz’s junior partners, green and liberal, have been pushing for months for the chancellor to be more forceful in his speech regarding the former “strategic partner”, now called a “systemic rival” in the coalition agreement that the three parties signed when they formed the coalition. The text, from December 2021, explicitly mentions Beijing’s threats to Taiwan’s sovereignty, and generally raises the tone about Germany’s largest trading partner.

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Germany is one of the European countries with the closest economic ties to China, and its industrial sector warns against a “decoupling” of the Asian giant. Berlin’s policy towards Beijing after the Russian invasion of Ukraine is closely watched in the rest of Europe.

Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz traveled to China last October, just after the enormous controversy generated by the sale of a Hamburg port terminal to Chinese capital, which pitted him against his coalition partners. The operation, and the president’s trip, provoked a debate, still unresolved, on the advisability of approving investments with non-allied countries and that do not share European values.

China’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world are based on the principle of one china, that is, there is only one China, and this includes Taiwan, considered as Beijing, an inalienable part of its territory. This island functions as a de facto state, with a democratically elected Executive, its own Constitution and Army. For China, it is a “rebel” province and its government, “illegitimate”, and requires third countries to refrain from maintaining any contact with it.

Despite this, foreign delegations frequently visit Taiwan. The most controversial trip occurred last year, when the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, went to the island, which caused a furious reaction from the Asian power. Germany, on the other hand, had kept a low profile. The last senior government official to visit Taipei was Economy Minister Günter Rexrodt, also from the Liberals, in 1997.

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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