The alliance between Xi Jinping and Putin and the Chinese aggression against Taiwan has changed Germany’s previous attitude towards China. Whether the People’s Republic can still be described as a partner is under scrutiny.
Economics Minister Robert Habeck spoke plainly on May 23 at the World Economic Forum in Davos: In the future, the People’s Republic will be treated differently than before. He justified this with the atrocities that became known at the same time as the conference in the Swiss mountains, which the regime in Beijing had committed against the ethnic and religious minority of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang.
Before the traffic light coalition took over government business, the two large mainstream parties, the Union and the SPD, had followed a course in their grand coalition that was geared more to the desire for increasing exports than to adherence to the principles of human rights. Therefore, the change of course may have surprised the listening global business elite.
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Not that human rights didn’t play a role under Chancellor Merkel. But because of the horrifying revelations, the new federal government could not continue according to the old maxim “change through trade”. Minister Habeck, who could also take on the role of chancellor in a possible future government led by the Greens, explained to the audience that Germany now wanted to reduce its dependence on Xi Jinping’s authoritarian China.
Shortly thereafter, the Vice Chancellor followed his words with deeds: On May 28, he ruled out further state guarantees for the Volkswagen plant in Xinjiang. “In view of the forced labor and mistreatment of the Uyghurs, we cannot secure any projects in the Xinjiang region,” Habeck said, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.
Red Alert: How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war
The Wolfsburg car manufacturer, which employed forced laborers during the Nazi era, still stands by its plant in Xinjiang. In an interview with “Spiegel” published on June 30, CEO Herbert Diess praised the communist leadership and dismissed the accusation that people were being forced into drudgery at the VW plant in Xinjiang. And that despite the fact that it was revealed in mid-June that VW operated a cattle factory in Brazil in the 1980s that employed forced laborers. The Brazilian judiciary is investigating.
A few days ago, on August 19, the next change of course regarding China came: According to press reports, the Ministry of Economic Affairs led by Robert Habeck is checking again whether it would like to allow the Chinese company Cosco to join the sponsoring community of the Port of Hamburg. Originally, the company wanted to acquire 35 percent of the important inland port. A decision is currently pending.
The federal government is drawing the consequences from the Ukraine war, which the Kremlin ruler Vladimir Putin started. This war of aggression, in violation of international law, made Germany’s dependence on Russian gas supplies abundantly clear. You don’t want to wake up in Berlin and realize that you’re just as dependent on the People’s Republic as you are on Russia.
The China strategy that Federal Foreign Ministers Annalena Baerbock had formulated in her house in February still classified Beijing as “a partner, competitor and rival”. In the meantime, not least because of the alliance that Putin and Xi have entered into with each other and the aggression that Beijing is showing towards its democratic neighboring country Taiwan, the talk of a partner is likely to be just as much under scrutiny as the investment in the hamburger Harbor.
Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute of the University of Oxford and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.
Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann
From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.