German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang attend a joint press conference at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, April 14, 2023. (Reuters Photo)

Germany’s tightrope walk: Navigating Taiwan row and economic gains

The United States has shown a close and dangerous interest in Taiwan in recent years in order to break the power of China, with which it is in global competition in almost every field, and to confine China to the Indo-Pacific region. If the two great powers with nuclear weapons try to solve this problem with war, of course, it will lead the whole world to disaster. However, according to the Realist school in the International Relations literature, it is thought that these powers will not directly attempt war, based on the prediction that if a nuclear power attacks another nuclear power, both sides will be destroyed. Based on this thesis, we can say that the probability of a direct U.S.-China war is unlikely.

The United States has shown a close and dangerous interest in Taiwan in recent years in order to break the power of China, with which it is in global competition in almost every field, and to confine China to the Indo-Pacific region. If the two great powers with nuclear weapons try to solve this problem with war, of course, it will lead the whole world to disaster. However, according to the Realist school in the International Relations literature, it is thought that these powers will not directly attempt war, based on the prediction that if a nuclear power attacks another nuclear power, both sides will be destroyed. Based on this thesis, we can say that the probability of a direct U.S.-China war is unlikely.

In the most “reasonable” scenario, China may intervene militarily on the island to resolve the Taiwan issue, which is deepening with each passing day, from its point of view. In this case, in line with the policy it has followed up to now, the U.S. would provide a large amount of military aid to Taiwan, just as it did to Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia since last year. Thus, it would wear out China over the Taiwan issue. So instead of fighting China directly, the U.S. would use Taiwan as a pawn against Beijing.

How European countries will act in such a scenario will be important for the parties. In this article, we will look for answers to the questions of what kind of policy Germany, one of the major actors in European politics, follows on the Taiwan issue and how it can react to China’s possible military intervention on the island.

Germany’s current policy on the Taiwan issue is based on the “One-China” policy that China has set as the red line. Accordingly, Germany, like the U.S. and other European countries, does not legally recognize Taiwan as an independent state and considers it a part of the People’s Republic of China. For this reason, Germany conducts its relations on an informal level with Taiwan. Also, the tripartite coalition government of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) that have been ruling Germany since December 2021 supports Taiwan’s participation in international organizations with observer status.

In short, as of the current situation, Germany abides by China’s red lines regarding the Taiwan issue and stays away from the negative approach that can provoke Beijing. As a result of this, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairperson of the German Parliamentary Defense Committee, expressed during her visit to Taipei in January 2023, considering the fact that the situation in Taiwan is different from the situation in Ukraine, Germany does not provide and will not provide military aid to Taiwan.

Berlin troubled by tension

In addition to these, Germany is uncomfortable with the increasing tension in the China-Taiwan-U.S. triangle. The most important reason for this is Germany’s strong trade relations with China and Taiwan. According to 2022 data, the total trade volume of Germany with China reached 300 billion euros ($331.45 billion) and the total trade volume with Taiwan is 30 billion euros. In this respect, the fact that trade with these two countries and the investments of German entrepreneurs in them will suffer in the event of a possible military operation worries Berlin immensely. For this reason, considering its own commercial interests, Germany is in favor of preserving the status quo in the region and resolving the tension between the parties through dialogue at the table.

Regarding how Germany will act in the scenario where China intervenes militarily in Taiwan, first of all, it should be noted that the U.S. will want to see Germany, like other European countries, on its side as a result of the transatlantic alliance. However, Germany will resist not being a direct part of this process, just as it did in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are two important reasons for this argument. First, Germany will not want its trade relations with China and Taiwan to be damaged, as it believes its trade relations with the U.S. are already guaranteed. Here, it should not be forgotten that Germany is the European country that has suffered the most from the sanctions that started due to the pressure of the U.S. after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine last year. Therefore, even if China intervenes militarily in Taiwan, Germany cannot easily impose sanctions on its biggest trading partner, China. Secondly, Germany, unlike the other two major actors of European politics, the U.K. and France, does not have an effective military capacity or any nuclear weapon. Therefore, it is unlikely that Germany, which is seen as an economic giant but militarily a worm, will be involved in a hot conflict in Taiwan.

In the case of China’s possible military intervention, Germany will institutionally dictate to the European Union the policy it will determine in accordance with the principle of maximum benefit. At this point, it is necessary to remember the statement made by Emmanuel Macron in France after his visit to China in March, stating that in line with Europe’s strategic autonomy goal, Europe does not have to follow the U.S. through on the Taiwan issue. After Macron’s controversial statements, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who went to China said that Europe must not turn a blind eye to the tensions over Taiwan.

Do stances of Berlin, Paris differ?

The statements of Macron and Baerbock were interpreted by some international media outlets as Germany and France’s different stances on the Taiwan issue. However, I think the opposite is the case since both Germany and France do not want to be a part of the Taiwan issue, which does not concern them in any way, and moreover, they will lose commercially, just because the U.S. wants it. The only difference is that France expresses this situation openly and Germany implicitly. Therefore, I am of the opinion that Germany and France are on the same line on the Taiwan issue.

Therefore, I think that in the scenario where the intervention against the island takes place, the Germany-France-EU trio will show common resistance against the possible sanctions that the U.S. will initiate against China. However, depending on U.S. pressure, this resistance may be broken after a while.

All in all, Germany, with a very rational approach, does not want to engage in the Taiwan issue in order not to harm its economic relations with China and Taiwan in accordance with its commercial state identity. Therefore, we can say that Germany’s current policy toward the Taiwan issue is based on neutrality. In the event of a possible attack by China on Taiwan, Berlin will first take into account the negative effects on its economy of the sanctions it had to impose against Russia, along with other EU member states, due to the Ukraine war. After that, it will try to play the “three monkeys” in order not to be a part of the Taiwan crisis.

[Daily Sabah, May 9 2023]

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