Is the Chancellor torpedoing the sanctions against Russia with the Hamburg China deal? There is now another critical China deal – this time in Dortmund.
The Hamburg-China deal, which Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz made possible as the holder of the directive authority, also affects Russia policy, namely as follows: Germany does not use Russian oil, but allows the sale of a German port terminal to a Chinese company , which ships Russian oil, which Moscow is using to finance its Ukraine war. That raises questions.
Above all this: Is the Chancellor circumventing the West’s Russia sanctions because of Germany’s great dependence on China?
As early as March, just a week after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world’s largest shipping companies stopped trading with Russia. With one exception: Cosco. The Chinese state shipping company that, with Scholz’s permission, can now buy a 24.9 percent stake in a terminal in the Port of Hamburg.
The Danish shipping giant Maersk had expressly justified the voluntary renunciation of Russian merchant shipping with the threat of sanctions. They have since been decided. They come into effect on December 5th. In six weeks, it will be banned from bringing Russian oil to Europe by sea, which affects two-thirds of the amount transported. Under pressure from Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban, Brussels had to allow an exception for his country.
Against this background, the timing of the China-Hamburg deal is remarkable. At the urging of the Chancellery, the federal cabinet waved him through yesterday, six weeks before the oil sanctions jointly decided by the West came into effect. And a week before the Chancellor’s trip to China.
From a legal point of view, the German China decision does not violate the Russia sanctions. Politically, of course, you can see things differently. China’s dictator President Xi Jinping finally personally pledged his support to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the company Cosco, which ships Putin’s oil to China, but also to India, is one of the most valuable Chinese companies, which is also closely linked to the Communist Party.
Xi doesn’t just use his companies to increase his gross national product. But also for political blackmail. The BND and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution warn of this, which is why they also wanted to prevent port trade.
An incident reported by the Brussels research platform Politico shows how China uses its economic power politically: In an interview, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib addressed the geostrategic threat posed by China. Chinese merchant ships could also transport military materiel, becoming “warships” in this way. As a result, emissaries from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached Lahbib. They demanded that the interview be withdrawn and combined this with a blackmailing threat: Belgium earns good money from the Belgian ports, in which China has a stake via Cosco…
Selling shares in the Port of Hamburg to Xi is not just a security problem. It also sends a problematic signal to Germany’s allies – first and foremost the US, but also France, whose President Emanuel Macron had criticized the German deal.
“With this act, Germany is positioning itself geopolitically – but on the wrong side,” says geopolitical expert Ulrich Speck. And the consequential costs would neither be considered nor included – as with Nord Stream 2, which Scholz advocated until the last moment before the Ukraine war, allegedly “private economic”, but in fact Ukraine-hostile Russian pipeline.
The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution had warned against port trade. Apparently not for the first time. The security authority has now warned the federal government against allowing China to take over the chip production of the Dortmund-based company Elmos. The “Handelsblatt” reports on this. This time, the green Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck is in favor, unlike the Hamburg port terminal. Because the Elmos technology is outdated.
But: The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution warns that China is specifically buying into such industries in order to be able to exert pressure on individual countries. Incidentally, the semiconductor market is not just about know-how, but also about production capacities. “This has to stop,” comments Green Konstantin von Notz. Apparently, the chancellor’s office still hasn’t understood that this is sending out signals that are perceived around the world about Germany’s role in the world.
The recent process is remarkable – after all, it is a European and, as stated, German strategy to reduce dependence on China, especially in sensitive fields – such as semiconductors, but also the rare earths that are needed for the energy transition.
Scholz is traveling to Xi next week. He takes a business delegation with him. One of the economists, a “fat cat”, Deutsche Bank boss Christian Sewing, has meanwhile canceled his flight, officially due to scheduling reasons. In fact, Sewing is one of the few Dax board members who are critical of Germany’s dependence on China. Its isolation and the growing tensions with the USA are risky for Germany.
Indeed, what will happen if China invades Taiwan, which Xi threatened to do offensively at the last CP convention, to great applause from his claqueurs? The USA will probably not only intervene militarily, but will impose even greater sanctions on China; which also affect Germany – and its most important trading partner China.
“The Americans will say: Those who still do business with China no longer do business with the USA,” said Stefan Wolf, head of the entire metal industry. The federal government has not heard anything about this scenario, which is anything but improbable.
Taken by itself, the China-Hamburg deal is small in terms of volume. Perhaps the 24.9 percent are not even strategically relevant because the danger is limited.
But: The general weather situation has changed completely. Russia is no longer an energy partner, China has developed into an aggressive dictatorship and a “system rival”. With the geostrategic politicization of economic trade, Russia and China are threatening the entire western system – and thus the guarantors of the prosperity of its citizens. But prosperity is Germany’s raison d’etat.
This is the situation in which a mosquito can sometimes become an elephant.
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