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18 Mar, 2023 04:11

Germany plans highest-level Taiwan visit in decades

The federal minister involved will reportedly try to avoid meeting senior officials so as not to irritate Beijing
Germany plans highest-level Taiwan visit in decades

Germany’s education minister has announced plans to visit Taiwan in the coming days, the first trip to the island by a high-ranking federal official in 26 years. Though China is likely to condemn the visit, Berlin says it does not signal any major policy shift against the People’s Republic.

Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger will travel to Taipei next week for a two-day visit, a spokesperson for her ministry said on Friday, noting that the trip would focus on cooperation on computer chips and green technologies. 

Though Taiwan proposed that Stark-Watzinger meet with 'Foreign Minister' Joseph Wu during her time on the island, Berlin “pushed back” against the request and would only agree to sit-downs with lower-level officials, the Financial Times reported, citing multiple people familiar with the negotiations.

A Reuters source said that the minister also would not see President Tsai Ing-wen “upon the instructions of the German government,” which is seeking to “avoid irritating China too much.”

Germany’s One-China policy dictates that any delegation sent to Taiwan is to be limited to specialized ministers whose duties are unrelated to matters of sovereignty. It bars visits by the chancellor, as well as the interior, foreign, or defense ministers.

The last trip by any German federal minister came in 1997, though lawmakers have traveled to the island on many occasions since, up to and including this year. 

Though Taiwan has been de-facto self-governed since the losing side in the Chinese Civil War fled to the island and established its own administration in 1949, China views the island as part of its sovereign territory, and generally frowns upon any official contacts between Taipei and foreign officials.

A top spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Steffen Hebestreit, stressed that the upcoming visit does not indicate any change in relations with Beijing. 

“The fact that the education and research minister is visiting Taiwan does not call into question our policy in any way,” he told reporters. 

Stark-Watzinger’s trip comes just weeks before German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock plans to visit Beijing, with multiple sources telling FT she will travel there in April or May. However, one unnamed German diplomat cited by the outlet questioned the wisdom of scheduling the two trips so close together. 

“On the one hand, we are sending [Baerbock to Beijing]... and on the other hand, a minister travels to Taiwan first – what kind of message are we sending to them?” they said.

While Germany and China are major trading partners, there are signs of growing tensions between the two nations. Berlin is currently drafting a new National Security Strategy which is expected to label the People’s Republic as a “systemic rival,” according to Bloomberg, while Scholz recently warned that Beijing would face “consequences” if it supplies weapons to Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine.