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International relations

German minister to visit Taiwan next week in test of China ties

Education minister "will not meet President Tsai to avoid irritating" Beijing

Visit to Taiwan by German Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger will be a working visit to discuss areas under her portfolio and not directly about sending a message of support from Germany to the island, according to a source.   © Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) -- Germany's education minister will visit Taiwan next week, a spokesperson said on Friday, as Berlin 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.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, also of the FDP, will begin her visit early next week, the 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 this 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.

In a departure from the policies of former chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany is developing a new China strategy to reduce dependence on Asia's economic superpower, hitherto a vital export market for German goods.

At the same time, Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC is considering making investments in Europe, including in Germany.

China views democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory and has increased military, political and economic pressure to assert those claims.

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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