Europe must not turn a blind eye to tensions between China and Taiwan because a military escalation in the region would be a “worst-case scenario” for the global economy, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday.
Speaking during a visit to China, Baerbock backed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who took a tougher stance than recently taken by French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint visit to Beijing, and also called for a de-risking of relations with China.
She said Europe needed to maintain a close exchange with Beijing, one of the bloc’s biggest trade partners, but also to draw lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine by tackling “unhealthy” dependencies on China.
“This doesn’t mean decoupling, but it means minimizing one’s risks and realizing that economic dependencies can also create dangers,” she said.
While Macron had called on the EU to reduce its dependence on the US, Baerbock stressed the importance of global security alliances with partners sharing the same values.
Macron bad warned the European Union last week not to get “caught up in crises that are not ours” with regard to Taiwan.
“Germany and the European Union are economically vulnerable, which means that we cannot be indifferent to the tensions in the Taiwan Strait,” Baerbock said in an audio file provided by her ministry during a stopover in the Chinese port of Tianjin.
Clear and united
Macron’s comments drew a backlash in the United States and Europe as they were widely perceived as taking a weak line on Taiwan and a gift to what analysts called Beijing’s goal of dismantling transatlantic unity.
As a result, the stakes of Baerbock’s inaugural China trip have risen, with many EU members hoping Germany will use the opportunity to set out a clear and united EU line on China.
“Fifty percent of global trade passes through the Taiwan Strait (and) 70 percent of semiconductors pass through the Taiwan Strait, so the free passage is in our economic interest as well,” Baerbock said.
“A military escalation in the Taiwan Strait ... would be a worst-case scenario globally and affect us as one of the biggest industrial nations in particular,” she added of Germany, the EU’s largest economy.
Tianjin was Baerbock’s first stop on a China trip expected to focus on damage control in the wake of Macron’s remarks, which suggested a rift in the EU’s approach to the rising superpower.
Even without Macron’s comments, the visit would have been delicate for Baerbock, who has been more hawkish on China than German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is drafting a China policy aimed at reducing German dependence on trade with Beijing.
She urged China to use its influence on Moscow to end what she called “Russia’s brutal war of aggression” in Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a special military operation.