TAIPEI, March 21 (Reuters) – Germany’s education minister said on Tuesday she was honoured to visit “esteemed partner” Taiwan but that her trip was not connected to her government’s China strategy, as Beijing said it had protested to Berlin about her “vile conduct” in going there.
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has increased military, political and economic pressure to assert those claims. The politically sensitive visit is taking place as Berlin is reviews its previously close ties with China.
A visit to Taiwan in January by a delegation of high-ranking lawmakers from the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest party in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-way coalition, led to protests from Beijing.
Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, also of the FDP, said at the signing of a technology cooperation agreement with Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council Minister Wu Tsung-tsong that it was “extremely important to my ministry and me to promote cooperation with like-minded partners”.
“This arrangement stands for enhancing cooperation on the basis of the democratic values transparency, openness, reciprocity and scientific freedom, to only name a few,” she said.
“It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be the first minister heading a specialist government department to visit Taiwan in 26 years,” she added. “Taiwan, with its excellent research institutions, is a highly esteemed partner.”
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said they had filed a strong protest with Germany about her “vile conduct”.
Germany should “immediately stop associating and interacting with Taiwan independence separatist forces, immediately stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces, and immediately stop using the Taiwan issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs”, Wang told a daily news briefing.
Germany, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, though it does maintain a de facto embassy in Taipei.
Given the sensitivity of the trip, Stark-Watzinger is not scheduled to meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
In a departure from the policies of Germany’s former chancellor, Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz’s government is developing a new China strategy to reduce dependence on Asia’s economic superpower, hitherto a vital export market for German goods.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Stark-Watzinger said: “The federal government’s China strategy remains unchanged. To that extent, this visit today is not connected with that”.
Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle
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