Since the beginning of the previous decade, German-Taiwanese relations have become more intense in various fields, including economics and culture. However, despite the enhanced relation between Taiwan and Germany, as well as the EU as a whole, some analysts criticise that EU-Taiwanese or German-Taiwanese relations remain at a politically limited level, doubting if the Asian partner could attain further international diplomatic recognition. This article is going to investigate the present German-Taiwanese relations in various aspects, with an emphasis on certain specific events and bilateral exchanges in the past five years. Instead of simply drawing a conclusion from the present situation, a procedural approach is taken to analyse the German-Taiwanese relations with regard to the unofficial linkage and Taiwan’s official discourse on bilateral relations.
Increasing cooperation in education, culture and economics
According to the German Institute Taipei, there have been more exchanges in the fields of education and culture. In November 2008, an agreement was signed with five Taiwanese Schools of Excellence under the Federal Foreign Office’s ‘Schools: Partners for the Future’ initiative (PASCH) and 17 new German classes were launched. In all, there are nearly 3,000 secondary school pupils learning German in Taiwan, putting German in fourth place among foreign languages taught there, after English, Japanese and French. In addition, German courses are offered at many universities and private language schools, as well as at the Goethe Institute Taipei.
Furthermore, to facilitate the multi-faceted bilateral exchange, Germany has offered a Working Holiday Programme for young Taiwanese, since October 2010, and it is the first EU Member State to instigate such a programme. Its first year, the German Institute received more than 150 applications and a tremendous increase is expected in the coming years.
Apart from increasing cultural and educational exchanges, the growth of bilateral economic cooperation is very impressive and is “the main focus of the bilateral relations between Germany and Taiwan”, as stated by the German Institute Taipei. Germany is Taiwan’s top partner in Europe, with bilateral trade amounting to US$14.8 billion in 2010, with an increase of 42 per cent when compared to the previous year. It is also Taiwan’s third-largest investor, with 250 companies committing US$1.9 billion to the local economy. Taiwan is Germany’s fifth most important trading partner in Asia, behind India, and 14th worldwide outside the EU. German companies are active in virtually all sectors in Taiwan and have frequently had a presence there for many years.
Declaration of non-diplomatic relations but unofficial linkage strengthened
In fact, though Germany clearly declares that it “does not maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan”, Taiwan maintains unofficial missions in main German cities including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt. Since 2000, German interests in Taipei have been looked after by the German Institute Taipei, which takes over various functions to foster German-Taiwanese relations.
In addition to the German Institute Taipei, the Germany-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group (GTPFG) also plays an important role in furthering German-Taiwanese relations. Parliamentarians have de facto far more freedom to broach sensitive topics than representatives of governments. The Friendship Group is formed by the voluntary participation of Parliament Members and, unlike in most countries, the GTPFG is regarded as a formal organisation of the German parliamentary structure. The GTPFG fosters bilateral exchanges and sometimes works with other Friendship Groups, such as the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group (EPTFG) in the European Parliament, to further Taiwan’s interests in the international arena. For instance, with the support of GTPFG and EPTFG, Taiwan officially entered the World Trade Organisation in January 2002.
The support of the Friendship Groups was also evident in Taiwan’s application for membership to the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to Taiwan Today, on 25 April 2007, ROC President Chen Shiu-bian urged the German government to support Taiwan’s bid to participate in the WHO and about two months later, the EPTFG proposed to the chairing state, which was Germany at that time, to approve Taiwan’s application for membership of the WHO. Finally in May 2009, Taiwan was invited to take part in the 62nd WHO meeting as an observer in the name of Chinese Taipei. This example illustrates how interrelated the Germany-Taiwan and EU-Taiwan relationships are – while the former can enhance the latter to further Taiwan’s international interests, it can also be hindered by the latter. Germany declares to maintain “no diplomatic relations with Taiwan” by reason of staying “in consistency with the overwhelming majority of the international community, including the European Union (EU) Member States, the USA and Japan”.
Unofficial linkage strengthened by economic cooperation
The unofficial linkage between Germany and Taiwan is strengthened by rising bilateral economic cooperation, which has played a “predominant role in maintaining this diplomatic battle”, as argued by Rich. Showing interest in Germany’s evolving energy policy and the accompanying development of green technologies, a high-ranking Taiwanese ministerial delegation visited Germany in February 2011 to find out more about the Federal Government’s Energy Concept 2050. This has led to a series of follow-up projects. The visit to Taipei by Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, Hans-Joachim Otto, in September 2011 has given further momentum to this cooperation.
Another example is the agreement over the visa-free travel to Schengen-area for Taiwan-passport holders. The agreement was signed on 11th January 2011, by which Taiwan-passport holders do not need a visa to enter the countries of the Schengen area, including Germany, as a tourist or for business purposes. The more frequent economic exchanges have brought forth greater recognition of Taiwanese citizenship. The treaty to abolish double taxation was signed on 28th December 2011 and is significant for the two export-oriented economies in the sense that it paves the way for increased bilateral trade and exchanges.
Strategic official discourse: Taiwan’s emphasis on historical resemblance
Interestingly, Taiwan’s attempt to further its international status is found in its official discourse, which emphasises its historical resemblance to its German partner. For instance, according to Taiwan Today, former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian cited the precedent of former East Germany while he was urging Germany to support Taiwan’s application for the membership of the WTO. He pointed out that, when East Germany had applied to become a member of the WHO in 1968, its status as a country was also challenged. He added that, although that bid was rejected from 1968 to 1971, East Germany was invited to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer in 1972 and its application for WHO membership was approved in the following year.
Similarly, both Wei Wu-lien, ROC representative in Germany and President Ma Ying-jeou resembled Taiwan’s situation to that of post-war Germany. InSeptember 2010, Wei mentioned Taiwan’s policy of pursuing change through contacts, which was similar to German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s ‘Ostpolitik’ in the 1970s and 80s. In July 2009, President Ma symbolically unveiled a segment of the Berlin Wall at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy headquarters in Taipei. In June 2011, he received a six-member delegation led by the Vice President of the Germany’s Parliament, Dr. Hermann Otto Solms. In the meeting, President Ma expressed that the development of East and West Germany in the 1970s and 80s had certain influence on the development of the Cross-Strait relations, adding that there was similarity between the situations of post-war Germany and the present cross-strait relations. In 1972, the Basic Treaty between East and West Germany was signed without using the term “sovereignty” but instead “the right to govern certain region” (Hoheitsgewalt). According to President Ma, the German model “has inspired Taiwan a lot” over the issues concerning the Cross-Strait relations. Taiwan’s emphasis on the historical resemblance is aimed at not only consolidating the bilateral relations, but also justifying its policy to internal and external parties and, most importantly, gaining further international status by indicating its expectation of a similar future.
In short, there has been increasing cooperation between Germany and Taiwan in various aspects including economics, culture and education. Above all, economic cooperation has predominantly maintained the diplomatic battle between the two sides. Since 2000, with the increasing economic cooperation, more and more unofficial missions or sub-official institutes have been set up, embodying different functions, which are significant in the bilateral relations. The political significance of this progress and the development of the unofficial relations cannot be underestimated, particularly with regard to the complexity of present international relations. Taiwan’s relation with Germany is not only dependent on those with Europe, but also those with Mainland China. Mainland China, instead of the United States, is now the largest export market of Taiwan. Following a very pragmatic policy in international relations, Taipei is even building a bridge with the Mainland for German and other European industry. President Ma’s victory in the recent election also indicates a policy favouring closer Cross-Strait relations, particularly in the economic aspect. This implies that Taiwan’s diplomatic recognition and international relations are going to be more economic-oriented. Considering the short-lived nature of functional diplomatic relations, conclusion of the current international status of Taiwan cannot be simply drawn by referring to Germany’s declaration of non-diplomatic relations. Indeed, German-Taiwanese relations are increasing not only in volume and scope, but in complexity as well.
For more information:
Chen urges German support at WHA (Taiwan Today)
Taiwan, Germany agree to abolish double taxation (Taiwan Today)
MOFA highlights benefits of tax agreements (Taiwan Today)
Envoy has big shoes to fill (Taipei Times)
Praesident Ma sichert sich Widerwahl (Der Spiegel)
SPIEGEL Interview with Taiwan’s President (Der Spiegel)
SPIEGEL Interview with Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian (Der Spiegel)
More information can be found here.