Germany presents its first strategy on a China “more repressive internally and more offensive externally” |  International

Germany presents its first strategy on a China “more repressive internally and more offensive externally” | International

Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck, and Olaf Scholz
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sitting next to Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) during the council of ministers this Thursday in Berlin that approved China’s strategy.HANNIBAL HANSCHKE (EFE)

China is Germany’s biggest trading partner and selling its products to it is an integral part of the commercial strength of Europe’s biggest economy, but Berlin has been wondering for some time whether it should not better protect itself from the growing threat posed by the Asian powerhouse. To respond to these concerns, the Government of Olaf Scholz has published this Thursday its first and long-awaited strategy for China, which points to solutions such as control of certain investments and the export of technology of military interest.

The 64-page document is very clear about the “serious” and “systematic” violations of human rights in China, but insists that Germany’s goal is not to “disengage” from the world’s second largest economy, but to minimize the risks. Beijing is changing, secure work. It is “increasingly assertive” in its fight for regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific and more dangerous to the rest of the world, including its relationship with Russia, Ukraine’s aggressor. That relationship is “an immediate security concern for Germany.”

The German strategy on China is published several months late due to the difficulties of the three parties that form the coalition -social democrats, greens and liberals- to agree on its wording. The person in charge of presenting it has been Annalena Baerbock, the Foreign Minister, from Los Verdes, the formation that has most tried to harden the discourse regarding the “systemic partner, competitor and rival” that is China. The document, softer than a previous version that was leaked to the press, comes amid a widespread attempt in the West to reduce strategic dependencies on the Asian giant.

“China has changed and, therefore, our policy towards China must also change,” Baerbock said during the presentation of the document at the think tank Merics, in Berlin. “She is more repressive internally and more offensive externally,” she added. Although the text warns of numerous risks, it stresses that Beijing continues to be an indispensable partner in tackling global challenges such as climate change or pandemics.

Baerbock stressed that China is perhaps the country that has changed the most in the last 10 years, and listed a series of data that measure its relevance. 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the last decades; 298,000 million euros exchanged China and Germany last year —a record number—; 87 gigawatts of solar energy were installed there last year alone, more than the total installed capacity in Germany… “We are talking about a country whose development will mark this century. That is why it is so important that our society faces this reality, ”he assured.

Germany experienced – “painfully”, in Baerbock’s words – last year how vulnerable unilateral dependencies make countries. Although Berlin eventually got through the winter without restraint, the cutoff of Russian gas supplies in the first months of the Ukrainian war put the country in a compromising situation. For this reason, the minister assured, the goal with China is “not to repeat this mistake.” “We don’t want to disassociate ourselves from China, but rather mitigate the risks as much as possible,” she stressed.

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In this attempt to minimize risks, Germany also asks companies that are highly dependent on the Chinese market to assume “more financial risks themselves in the future” and to ensure that human rights are not violated in their supply chains. Berlin wants to agree on future measures in a European framework. “The European common internal market is our most powerful instrument,” Baerbock said. Europe cannot and does not want to ignore the huge Chinese market, but “it is equally true that the Chinese market also needs the European one.”

The new German strategy “will be discussed at all levels in Beijing,” said a spokesman for the Scholz government on Thursday. Scholz received Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang in Berlin last June to hold the seventh intergovernmental consultations between the two countries. Li, appointed only months earlier, chose Germany for his first foreign trip as prime minister, which he took with eight of his ministers. Not long before, in November, Scholz had traveled to Beijing to meet President Xi Jinping in the first visit by a Western leader since Xi was re-elected to an unprecedented third term. The chancellor had to give many explanations because scandals such as the controversial entry of Chinese capital into the port of Hamburg were still very recent.

In German business circles, there is concern about the impact of this risk reduction strategy in an economy in technical recession that has China as a preferred market for its main companies, especially automobile companies such as BMW or Volkswagen. But it is necessary to make that effort to reduce dependencies, insists the strategy. Half of all container ships in the world pass through the Taiwan Strait, transporting machinery, food, medicine components…

Diversify is the mantra that is repeated throughout the strategy, in line with what the European Union also proposes. From now on, special attention will be paid to “critical dependencies”, such as rare earths or the components necessary to fight the climate emergency. The EU imports 98% of the rare earths it needs to make electric motors and generators from China. Berlin has set its sights on third countries such as Brazil, which currently exports six times more to China than to Germany. The Baerbock ministry, and also the German industry, are pressing for the EU-Mercosur agreement to enter into force as soon as possible.

Fighting the biggest crisis facing humanity, the climate crisis, means reaching agreements with China, the strategy underlines. The Asian giant produces a third of the world’s CO2 emissions and continues to build coal-fired power plants. “It is clear that without China we will not be able to effectively curb the climate crisis or achieve a more just prosperity in the world,” Baerbock said.

The strategy also makes it clear that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a “special responsibility” regarding the UN Charter. “The close Russian-Chinese cooperation does not do justice to this,” says the document, which also warns that “closer arms cooperation between China and Russia, in particular Chinese arms deliveries in the context of the Russian war of aggression, it would have a direct impact on EU-China relations and on our bilateral relations.” Scholz’s spokesman was more direct at the regular press conference in Berlin: “China can put more pressure on Russia to end the war against Ukraine.”

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