Taiwan visit China called 'vile' is a 'normal work trip', German minister says
By Fabian Hamacher
TAIPEI (Reuters) -Germany's education minister said on Wednesday that she was on a "normal work trip" to Taiwan to seek collaboration with partners that share similar challenges, a visit China has condemned as "vile".
China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has ramped up military, political and economic pressure to assert that claim.
The politically sensitive visit of Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger is taking place as Germany is reviewing its previously close ties with China.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Stark-Watzinger said the fact that she was making the first trip to Taiwan by a German minister in 26 years was of course going to attract attention.
"We have to collaborate with the partners that share similar challenges - and in Taiwan we also see that a turnaround in energy (policies), expertise in semiconductor technology but also the question of securing skilled personnel are common topics," she said.
"We are working with partners who share similar values worldwide. In this sense, this is a normal work trip."
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner praised her trip in a post on Twitter, saying Stark-Watzinger's engagement had earned his respect.
"The price of cooperation with China must not be the creeping loss of democracy and freedom worldwide," said Lindner, who shared a link about the opening of a German foundation centre in Taipei attended by the education minister.
After China's criticism of the trip, a source at Germany's foreign office responded by saying the visit did not mean any deviation from Germany's "one China" policy.
Stark-Watzinger also said her trip was within the framework of Germany's "one China" policy.
China demands countries recognise that Taiwan is part of its territory. Taiwan's government strongly rejects China's sovereignty claim saying only the island's people can decide their future.
In January, a visit to Taiwan by a delegation of high-ranking lawmakers from Germany's liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest party in Chancellor Olaf Scholz's three-way coalition, also led to Chinese protests.
Stark-Watzinger is a member of the FDP.
Germany, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, though it does maintain a de facto embassy in Taipei.
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.
(Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard and Miranda Murray; Editing by Robert Birsel)