What’s behind the German minister’s trip to Taiwan

What’s behind the German minister’s trip to Taiwan
What’s behind the German minister’s trip to Taiwan

After 26 years Taiwan will host a German federal minister for the first time. Next week, in fact, the Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger is expected in Taipei for a two-day trip. A highly sensitive trip, given that it is scheduled almost to coincide with the visit of the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbockto Beijingexpected between April and May.

An education ministry spokesman said Stark-Watzinger’s trip would focus on research on semiconductors, “in order to accelerate the expansion of the German and European microchip ecosystem”. “The goal is to consolidate cooperation on the front of education, science and research”, explained the person concerned, adding that she will be a “technical visit” in a country that is “the world leader in the development and production of semiconductors”.

Stark-Watzinger will also discuss cooperation on green hydrogen and battery research. Yet, beyond its real or presumed purpose, the minister’s trip to Taiwan has highlighted the relevant ones divisions of Germany regarding the management of its relations with China (which among other things considers the island as its province).

Between Taipei and Beijing

What to do with China? In the midst of tensions between Beijing and the West, Germany, which is one of the countries most at ease, doesn’t know how to answer this question. Already forced to sever the energy ties with the Russia following the outbreak of war in the Ukraine, Berlin risks having to loosen relations with a business partnerthe Chinese one, highly relevant for large German industries.

Stark-Watzinger, of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), thus turned the spotlight on the evident geopolitical divisions present within the German executive, where the friction between the coalition parties – mainly FDP And greens – obstructed the decision-making process on a number of domestic issues.

As wrote the Financial Timesthe other trip, the one planned by Baerbock to Beijing, was part of an effort to put bilateral relations on a more stable track to allow the two countries to focus on economic and mutual interest issues.

The point is that, on the one hand, a senior German official is expected in China for a new round of bilateral government consultations – to be restarted after the interruption caused by Covid; on the other, a second high-ranking German official will visit Taipei. “What kind of message are we sending to China?” German diplomats ask.

Germany’s dilemma

We recall that in the last six months Taiwan has seen a sharp increase in foreign delegations. Germany had, however, hitherto avoided strict political contacts with Taipei, since its economyhas become increasingly dependent on China over the years.

“Of course it is a strong political signal that after 26 years a German government minister is visiting Taiwan again,” said Frank Schaffler, FDP MP and deputy chairman of the German parliament’s bilateral friendship group with Taiwan. “The FDP has a long history of supporting Taiwan, and there is a lot of sympathy for Taiwan because it is a democracy,” Schäffler reiterated, however noting that Berlin should be careful how balance relationships with Beijing.

According to some rumors, Germany opposed Taipei’s proposal to organize a meeting between Stark-Watzinger and Joseph Wu, Foreign Minister of Taiwan. “We will not politicize this visit. All of his meetings (of Stark-Watzinger ed) will be strictly focused on the level and nature of the dialogue of the specialized ministers ”, they explained from Berlin. Which, apparently, does not seem to be at all willing to sacrifice economic relations with China to fully support the Taiwanese cause.

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