Berlin Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) is expected on Monday for a three-day visit to Taiwan. The aim of the trip is to strengthen cooperation with Taiwan in science, research and education, according to the Federal Ministry of Research. Taiwan is a high-tech location and a global leader in the development and production of semiconductors in particular.
Within the federal government, the trip has been arranged according to information from the Handelsblatt. Germany’s so-called one-China policy means that seven federal government officials, including the foreign minister and the chancellor, will not travel to Taiwan. However, other officials, such as the research minister, are not among these seven.
The minister’s environment emphasized that the visit is not just a symbol of support for Taiwan, but a trip that is driven by content. In fact, Stark-Watzinger has a tight program ahead of her: She will meet Taiwan’s Science and Technology Minister Wu Tsung-tsong, Digital Minister Audrey Tang and Education Minister Pan Wen-Chung.
At that time he also visited the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Taiwan is expanding its space activities with the economy and is interested in more cooperation with European countries in space technology. This involves the manufacture of satellite components, particularly high-resolution remote sensing satellites, low-orbit communications satellites and small launch vehicles.
In addition to the technical issues, Stark-Watzinger wants to promote cooperation in research and teaching of the Chinese language. She hopes that this will give Germany more China expertise. This is part of the German China strategy, because there is a lack of sufficient knowledge and language skills in both science and business. To this end, the minister is visiting the National Taiwan University and a vocational training school in Taipei.
A meeting with the Taiwanese foreign minister is explicitly not on the agenda. Nevertheless, the visit of the liberal minister to Taiwan is explosive enough: the last time a German government member, the then economics minister Günter Rexrodt (FDP), visited the country was in 1997.
Observers expect that the visit will lead to tensions in the relationship between Germany and China. China has already demarched to the responsible German authorities and expressed great displeasure, the Chinese embassy told the editorial network Germany (RND).
China regards Taiwan as part of its territory, although the country has never been part of the People’s Republic founded in 1949 and has its own democratically elected government and laws. Most countries in the world, including Germany, do not recognize this territorial claim, but have agreed to renounce official diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of diplomatic relations with Beijing.
In recent years, the Chinese government has reacted with increasing resentment to supposed signs that states such as Germany or the USA are moving away from this practice. In August last year, during a visit by the then Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, there were not only sharp threats, but also military maneuvers around the island that lasted for days.
Observers are not expecting Stark-Watzinger’s trip to trigger a similarly violent reaction as Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Finally, China is more concerned with maintaining good relations with Germany.
But: “The visit of a member of the German federal government to Taiwan will definitely lead to tensions in the German-Chinese relationship,” says Kristin Shi-Kupfer, professor of sinology at the University of Trier. “Germany is important in Europe, China knows that.”
Germany has not committed itself to the “one China principle”.
In an interview with the Handelsblatt newspaper at the beginning of the year, China’s ambassador in Berlin, Wu Ken, warned against a trip to Taiwan by a member of the federal government. He explicitly warned “individual politicians” against “not testing Chinese red lines”. According to Wu, the “one China principle” is a political obligation to which all previous federal governments have committed themselves.
In fact, Germany has not committed itself to the “one China principle”, but is pursuing a “one China policy”. That’s a big difference. Because while the “One China principle” propagated by the Chinese government includes specifications formulated by China, such as Taiwan being part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China, the federal government’s “One China policy” makes no statement about this. It merely acknowledges that China is only diplomatically represented by Beijing.
The German line also means that the certain officials mentioned above do not travel to Taiwan and corresponding Taiwanese officials do not travel to Europe. This includes only the heads of state and government, the vice president, as well as the foreign and defense ministers, the speaker of the parliament and the chief justice.
In recent decades, however, Taiwan was simply not on the agenda of most German politicians. This one-China policy, the form of which has not changed for decades, is determined by the federal government itself. The FPD faction recently made this very clear in their joint China paper. “As the Federal Republic of Germany and the EU, we will continue to define how this one-China policy will be shaped,” it says.
A spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office emphasized on Friday that Taiwan is an important trade and investment partner for Germany and that regular exchanges and mutual visits by the responsible ministers are therefore completely normal.