Taiwan envoy calls on Germany to up visits, military cooperation

·3 min read

By Sarah Marsh and Alexander Ratz

BERLIN (Reuters) - Taiwan's de facto ambassador to Berlin praised what he said was the start of a shift by Germany towards a more assertive stance on China, and urged the government to further enhance relations with Taipei.

Shieh Jhy-Wey, who was posted to Berlin in 2016, told Reuters that he wished Germany and its strategic partners would invite Taiwan to participate in their next manoeuvres in the Indo Pacific, or arrange more bilateral visits.

"I sense the will of the German government to improve its handling of Taiwan - some things have already happened," Shieh said in an interview conducted on Wednesday. "And I hope that as the Chinese become more unabashed in their aggression towards Taiwan, that there is a corresponding reaction towards China."

Critics have accused Germany of long being soft on Beijing on issues like rights abuses and its attitude towards Chinese-claimed, self-ruled Taiwan - in part due to its heavy economic reliance on China, Germany's top trading partner since 2016.

But Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has vowed to get tougher, with its coalition deal the first to mention Taiwan. It states that any changes to the status quo in the Taiwan Straits should only happen peacefully and by mutual agreement.

The issue has heated up in recent weeks as China has conducted large-scale military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan in response to a visit to the island by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Germany has joined other Western nations over the past year in expanding its military presence in the Indo-Pacific amid growing alarm over Beijing's territorial ambitions. This week it sent 13 military aircraft to joint exercises in Australia.

Shieh also said Taiwan should be more closely integrated into international organisations like the United Nations, the World Health Organization or Interpol.

He said one no longer heard any mention in Berlin of "Wandel durch Handel" - change through trade, long the guiding principle of Germany's policy towards China - other than to criticize it.

Germany's focus in the region appeared to be shifting towards a geopolitical one, he said. The government has warned of an economic decoupling from China, although critics question how tough it can get given its economic reliance on Asia's rising superpower.

A new path was also being taken at European level, Shieh said, citing European Parliament Vice President Nicola Beer's visit to Taiwan in July, the first by such a high-ranking EU official.

Shieh said he would welcome a visit by the president of Germany's Bundestag lower house of parliament, although this would likely be "to ask too much". Germany has ruled out visits by any high-ranking state officials.

A group of lawmakers from the Bundestag's human rights committee plan do to travel to Taiwan in October, Committee president Renata Alt told Reuters last week.

"The trip should send a signal that we support the independence of Taiwan and democracy there," she said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Alexander Ratz; Additional Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Catherine Evans)