Thursday, 23 March 2023

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German minister to visit Taiwan despite Berlin’s push for dialogue with Beijing

Bettina Stark-Watzinger

Taiwan will host its first visit by a German federal minister in 26 years next week, a trip that has highlighted divisions in Berlin over the handling of its relationship with China amid rising geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the west.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, federal minister of education and research, is scheduled to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday, officials said. Her two-day trip comes as Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock prepares to visit Beijing in April or May, according to two people familiar with the situation.

An education ministry spokesman said the visit would focus on semiconductor research, “in order to accelerate the expansion of the German and European microchip ecosystem”. Stark-Watzinger would also discuss co-operation on green hydrogen and research into batteries, he said.

The trip by Stark-Watzinger, of the liberal Free Democratic party (FDP), has thrown into stark relief discord over China policy within the German government, where frictions between the coalition parties — primarily the FDP and Greens — have hampered decision-making on a range of issues.

Germany has one of Europe’s closest economic relationships with China, and the way in which it balances its ties with Beijing and engagement with Taipei will resonate across the EU.

Baerbock’s planned trip to Beijing was part of an effort to put bilateral relations on a more stable track to allow the countries to focus on major, mostly economic, issues of mutual interest, German diplomats said.

“On the one hand, we are sending her [to Beijing] and pushing for a new round of bilateral government consultations which have not taken place since 2021 due to Covid, and on the other hand, a minister travels to Taiwan first — what kind of message are we sending to them?” said one German diplomat.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and demands that third countries refrain from any contact with the island nation’s government.

Lawmakers and some government officials from western countries nonetheless frequently visit Taiwan. In August, Beijing staged unprecedented war games around Taiwan in response to a trip by Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Taipei has seen a sharp increase in foreign delegations over the past six months in a backlash against Beijing’s belligerent response, with some officials explicitly seeking to counter…

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