German Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger will travel to Taiwan next week, Berlin said Friday, as the first cabinet member to visit in 26 years in a move set to spark tensions with China.
A ministry spokesman told reporters Stark-Watzinger would make a two-day visit to the democratic island state which China sees as part of its own territory.
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“The aim of the visit is to bolster and expand cooperation with Taiwan on science, research and education,” he said, noting Taiwan’s strengths on high-tech manufacturing.
The trip comes two months after a high-ranking German parliamentary delegation travelled to the self-ruled island in a move strongly criticised by Beijing.
China’s Communist Party regards Taiwan as belonging to Beijing and has vowed to one day take the island.
Under President Xi Jinping, Beijing has ramped up military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan because its current elected government regards the island as an already sovereign nation and not part of “one China”.
The deputies on the Taiwan visit in January came from the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) — a junior partner in Germany’s coalition government to which Stark-Watzinger also belongs.
The MPs had described their stay as a “sign of solidarity” with the democracy.
– ‘Completely normal’ –
China routinely opposes official exchanges with Taiwan, and has reacted with growing anger to a flurry of visits by Western politicians.
Last year saw a spike in tensions as Beijing ramped up military pressure and launched its largest war games in decades to protest against a visit by then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.
Also in August, the German air force boosted its presence in the Indo-Pacific with the deployment of 13 military aircraft, one year after it dispatched a frigate to the region for the first time in almost two decades.
A German foreign ministry spokesman stressed on Friday that Berlin maintains its “One China” policy while maintaining “close and good ties with Taiwan”.
“Taiwan is a democracy and an important trade and investment partner for Germany which is why regular exchange and also mutual visits from ministers are completely normal,” he said.
The announcement came as Chancellor Olaf Scholz was set to embark with six ministers on a visit to Japan for talks on economic security.
Bitten by its reliance on Russian energy, Germany has been battling to pivot away from other economic dependencies, in particular on China, in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
It has also been ramping its overtures to other Asian nations including Indonesia and India, as it seeks to diversify its supplies and exports alike.
A senior German official on Thursday noted the significance of Japan’s economic security promotion act enacted last year.
This is aimed at shielding supply chains from disruption by either ensuring that supplies are sourced from within the country or by relying on allies or partners rather than on China.
The government source underlined that while the tensions surrounding Taiwan would “not explicitly be part of the consultations”, the ministers will discuss military cooperation.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told AFP that Taiwan had a “lot to offer” the world after Honduras became the latest nation to cut ties with Taipei and recognise Beijing.
“I think it’s in the interest of people to be able to engage in the world. Taiwan has a lot to offer, including, for example, in international institutions, where remarkably talented people have tremendous experience and expertise,” Blinken said in an interview late Thursday in Niger.
“Countries have to decide for themselves whether and how they want to benefit from that.”