Merkel's top diplomat Heiko Maas warns China over Taiwan 'threats'

Maas (right) welcomes China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting in Berlin, Sept 1, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's top diplomat warned China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi against making "threats" towards 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 said that the Czech Senate president would pay a "heavy price" for his Taiwan visit.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he had spoken by phone with his Czech counterpart.

"We as Europeans act in close cooperation - we offer our international partners respect, and we expect the exact same from them," Maas said on Tuesday (Sept 1) at a briefing in Berlin alongside Wang. "Threats don't fit in here."

The French Foreign Ministry also weighed in on 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 defence 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 will not become a "play thing" as the United States, 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.

Wang had started the five-nation European trip saying relations with Europe should not 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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