German minister to visit Taiwan in test of China relations
BERLIN, March 17 (Reuters) - Germany's education minister will visit Taiwan next week with a view to improving cooperation between Berlin and Taipei on semiconductors, a ministry spokesperson said on Friday, adding that the issue of sovereignty will not be the focus of the trip.
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 will take place at a time when Berlin is reviewing 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.
Bettina Stark-Watzinger, also of the FDP, will begin her visit early next week, a ministry spokesperson said.
A source with direct knowledge of the visit said Stark-Watzinger would not see President Tsai Ing-wen upon the instructions of the German government to avoid irritating China too much.
The source stressed the trip was a working visit to discuss areas under Stark-Watzinger's portfolio and not directly about sending a message of support from Germany to Taiwan.
Scholz reiterated before a planned trip to Japan on Saturday that he stands by Beijing's so-called "one China" policy. Berlin nonetheless maintains lower level contacts with Taiwan.
Tsai meets most senior visiting foreign officials and lawmakers, though not all.
Speaking at a regular news conference in Berlin, the education ministry spokesperson said the agenda during Stark-Watzinger's visit will also include battery research and supply chains.
Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC (2330.TW) is currently considering investments in Europe and Germany.
In a departure from the policies of Germany's former chancellor, Angela Merkel, 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.
Last year, China condemned a visit to Taiwan by then-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-level U.S. visit in 25 years, as a threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Merkel took big business delegations on her frequent trips to China, which became Germany's top trade partner in 2016.
Shortly before leaving office in 2021, Merkel told Reuters she may have been naive at first in some areas of cooperation with China.
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