Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 1 September 2020


Merkel’s Top Diplomat Warns China Over Taiwan ‘Threats’

Updated on 
  • Minister condemns Wang accusation after Czech visit to Taiwan
  • China’s Wang reiterates visit crossed a ‘red line’ for Beijing
Wang Yi and Heiko Maas leave after a joint press conference in Berlin, on Sept. 1. 
Wang Yi and Heiko Maas leave after a joint press conference in Berlin, on Sept. 1.  Photographer: Michael Sohn/AFP via Getty Images

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top diplomat warned Chinese counterpart Wang Yi against making “threats” toward European allies, as Wang reinforced his accusation that a Czech lawmaker’s visit to Taiwan had crossed a line.

The sharp exchange after talks in Berlin undermined what had been billed as a charm offensive from China, after Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, said that the Czech Senate president would pay a “heavy price” for his Taiwan visit. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he’d spoken by phone with his Czech counterpart.

Wang Yi

“We as Europeans act in close cooperation -- we offer our international partners respect, and we expect the exact same from them,” Maas said Tuesday at a briefing in Berlin alongside Wang. “Threats don’t fit in here.” The French Foreign Ministry also weighed in Tuesday, calling Wang’s comments “unacceptable.”

Wang stood his ground, saying that Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil’s visit was an intervention in China’s internal affairs and a violation to which the government in Beijing had to respond.

“You’ve crossed a red line,” Wang said in Berlin, referring to Vystrcil and his 90-member delegation, including Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, a Beijing critic who in January made Taipei a sister city to the Czech capital.

In a 50-minute press conference with Maas, Wang was pressured on China’s stance on Hong Kong, the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, his assertive comments during his week-long European tour and China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs in the far west region of Xinjiang.

Wang issued an extended defense of Chinese policy, reiterating warnings that accusations against Beijing constitute an intervention in the country’s internal affairs -- and denying that China sought to disrupt relations.

“We are not trouble-makers,” Wang said.

The tension has overshadowed issues including an EU-China investment accord, which Merkel’s government had aimed to complete by the end of the year. Maas said the 27-member bloc would assert its sovereignty and won’t become a “play thing” as the U.S., China and Russia shake geopolitical foundations.

The German, who repeated an EU call for a legislative election in Hong Kong as soon as possible, also said Wang had expressed “readiness” to allowing a monitoring mission to Xinjiang.

The Chinese diplomat had started the five-nation European trip saying relations with Europe shouldn’t suffer because of Beijing’s intensifying standoff with the administration of President Donald Trump. But his appearances tended to make more progress in ratcheting up tensions with the region.

In Norway, he suggested that the Nobel Peace Prize should not be issued to Hong Kong protesters, evoking memories of a cratering of relations a decade ago when the committee awarded the prize to a Chinese democracy advocate. Matters then escalated with the warning against the Czech politician.

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