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 and expand 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 schedule ahead of him.
The visit is nevertheless controversial: the last time a German government member visited the country was the then Economics Minister Günter Rexrodt (FDP) in 1997. Observers expect that the visit will lead to tensions in the relationship between Germany and China.
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.
>> Read here: Pelosi pledges support to Taiwan
Admittedly, observers do not expect that Stark-Watzinger’s trip will lead to a reaction that is as violent as Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Finally, China is trying harder to maintain 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. When asked about a possible visit, he said that the “one China principle” is a political obligation to which all previous federal governments have committed themselves. “But I would also like to advise individual politicians not to play with fire on the Taiwan question and not to test Chinese red lines.”
>> Read also here: China’s Ambassador in Berlin Wu Ken – “Cold War mentality”
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, for example that Taiwan belongs to the territory of the People’s Republic of China, the German government makes no statement about this with its “One China Policy”. 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.
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