We live in a modern world where nations are interdependent, making foreign relations revolve around domestic politics. These overseas connections of countries (foreign relations) should have some ethical dimensions and be according to the democratic rights of the people. We can’t possibly understand all of the dynamics of a relationship, whether it’s between two people or two countries. All relationships have their peaks and valleys, based on the obsolete and contemporary events of the actors involved, which the trial-and-error process can balance. Germany’s relations with Taiwan are no exception to this.
Why is Taiwan Important?
Taiwan is like a middle child, important but ignored, sandwiched between China and Japan since 1895. Taiwan is an island at a distance of 100 miles from China on its southeast coast. It perches on the belt, which is crucial for the superpower. If China took control of Taiwan, it would have authority over the whole route of the “First Island Chain.” In this way, China is a massive threat to the US, but according to the Chinese government, their intentions are pure.
China and Taiwan are two very closely located but significantly different countries in regard to their value system. Many countries didn’t recognize Taiwan as a separate and independent state, except for thirteen countries, but now its popularity is increasing as Taiwan is being discussed on international forums.
The Dilemma of the German Foreign Policy
Germany is one country that seems confused over this issue. It has to contemplate whether to go for an independent Taiwan narrative or the One China narrative. In May 2021, Friedolin Strack, who is responsible for international markets in the Federation of German Industries (BDI), suggested that Germany should take risks out of political and economic self-interest.
For Germany, Taiwan is a fellow democratic country as well as a high-tech market economy with numerous potentials for commercial and scientific collaboration. For instance, TSMC, a market leader in Taiwan, produces more than half of the world’s high-performance microchips. All of Germany’s parties, including the Free Democratic Party, Green Party, and Social Democratic Party, have a crystal-clear stance of increasing friendly relations with Taiwan.
However, China is Germany’s top trading partner, which presents a problem for German foreign policy. Berlin might have run the risk of a brutal war, especially from an economic standpoint, if it had taken a strong stance against Chinese attempts to reclaim Taiwan. However, if Germany had remained silent, it would have disproved its assertion that its foreign policy is “values-based.”
The Turnover in Germany’s Policy
Despite the One China policy, Germany’s relations with Taiwan have been cordial. According to the German Foreign Office’s website, “Taiwan and Germany are major value partners, united by tight and substantial economic, cultural, and scientific connections.” The German Institute Taipei is a sort of embassy that Berlin maintains on the island.
The coalition agreement for the center-left government in Germany, which assumed office at the end of last year, states where it stands on Taiwan. The agreement states, “The Taiwan Strait status quo may only be altered through peaceful means and with both parties consent. We support the appropriate representation of democratic Taiwan in international institutions, consistent with the EU’s One China policy.”
German governments have consistently declined to provide Taiwan with weaponry, although trade between the two countries is vital. In 2021, trade between Taiwan and Germany totaled €22 billion ($22 billion), making Germany Taiwan’s largest trading partner in Europe. But the trade volume with China eclipses that connection by 12. Taiwan dominates the computer chips market by standing at 65% in 2021, while China remained at 5%.
The tables seemed to be turned in favor of Taiwan when recently, six German parliamentarians traveled to Taiwan on a five-day official visit. They met with Tsai Ing-wen, the island’s president. Klaus-Peter Willsch, the head of the German-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group, expressed his opinion to Tsai that China’s threats against Taiwan were unacceptable.
Tsai said she appreciated Germany for its support of Taiwan’s membership in international organizations and for expressing concern about the escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait. As expected, the Chinese government has denounced the visit of the German legislators and asked them to adhere to the One China policy.
Germany’s leadership is looking forward to strengthening its relations with Taiwan and want to maintain this cooperative bond, advising China to stay aside. Concomitantly, Germany refrains from breaching the “One China Policy” but condemns China’s policy towards Taiwan which is similar to Russian policy apropos Ukraine. Taipei favors frequent visits from western countries, i.e., France, Germany, the UK, and Canada, as it wants to intensify the Bilateral Trade Agreement with Germany and other countries.
Germany should keep up its pressure to improve Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. For instance, the World Health Organization and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change would significantly benefit Taiwan’s experience. Still, Beijing is doing everything in its power to prevent Taipei from being granted observer status. Without succumbing to Chinese intimidation, the German administration and parliament should likewise step-up political contacts with Taiwan.
Exchange programs involving NGOs, think tanks, and students, as well as town twinning arrangements, offer excellent opportunities for furthering the development of cross-societal relationships. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Global Innovation Hub’s inauguration in Taipei was a positive step. It would be a good idea for other German political foundations to establish a presence in Taiwan, where there is much to be learned about digital transformation, innovation, and the self-assertion of democracy in the face of autocracies.
Germany should also contribute to de-escalation and rapprochement efforts between Taiwan and Beijing. China recently reminded Germans that it had “consistently backed Germany’s attempts to achieve national unity” and that it now hoped for German “understanding” and “support” concerning Taiwan. This was said in a message published by the Chinese embassy in Berlin.
At the same time, the embassy asserts that “all Chinese people in the world, including our 23 million compatriots in Taiwan, share the desire for reunification.” In the end, Germany should persuade Beijing to let the Taiwanese people and their democratic representatives freely vote on reunification, with Beijing promising to accept the results.
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