While Scholz recently traveled to China at his own request, the Foreign Ministry seems to want to drastically change the China course. But how exactly is that supposed to work?
The dispute in the traffic light coalition about a new China strategy by the federal government is entering the next round. The first draft of a corresponding paper from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contains one thing above all: the warning against further investments by the People’s Republic in ports worldwide.
Most recently, Chancellor Olaf Scholz ignored calls from all specialist departments and allowed the Chinese state shipping company Cosco to invest in the Port of Hamburg. The report’s authors fear that China could militarize these ports for its own ends.
The paper, which was forwarded as “classified information” to other ministries dealing with questions about China and is available to the magazine “Spiegel”, largely represents a reorientation of German China policy.
A trip to Beijing like the one Chancellor Scholz embarked on a few weeks ago with a business delegation could probably no longer take place in the future.
The house of the Green Foreign Minister Baerbock criticizes the SPD-led Chancellery: In the future, the question of human rights should be the decisive factor in shaping the relationship between Germany and the People’s Republic – no longer purely economic considerations.
The paper mentions the province of Xinjiang, in which Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghur minority. In addition, Tibet, which has been occupied by the People’s Republic since the 1950s, and Hong Kong.
In the financial metropolis, Beijing rules with a so-called “security law” with an iron fist and has crushed every democratic movement. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that there can still be sanctions against Chinese actors who commit human rights violations.
Most importantly, State Department officials want to ensure that forced labor does not occur in supply chains involving China. Here, the province of Xinjiang has long been in the Greens’ sights.
Months ago, Habeck’s Ministry of Economics stopped issuing any further investment guarantees for German companies that are represented in the troubled province.
These include, for example, the chemical giant BASF and the car manufacturer Volkswagen. In both companies, one does not want to face the responsibility of being involved in possible serious human rights violations. Both companies state that they did not use forced labor.
The Volkswagen Group, which is gnawing at its Nazi past and is currently on trial in Brazil for alleged slavery in its companies in the 70s and 80s, does not know how to tread softly in China.
The business in the giant country is too important, and the importance of the market for the German economy is undisputed. At the same time, the paper points out that Europe’s domestic market remains of interest to the People’s Republic and that this has not been given sufficient weight in the talks with Beijing.
The Foreign Ministry asserts that it will coordinate its new China policy with its European partners. So Berlin understands that a change in the attitude of Europe’s largest economy towards Beijing is likely to have an impact on the entire continent.
With a view to strategic Chinese investments in the Western Balkans, the Federal Foreign Office is also calling for these to be countered with funds from the joint EU initiative “Global Gateway”.
The handwriting of the ministries led by Barbock and Habeck is also clearly evident when it comes to other critical issues, such as Taiwan, but also China’s commitment in Africa.
The Liberals have also criticized the attitude of Olaf Scholz and the SPD towards the People’s Republic of China in the past.
In the forthcoming consultations on the paper, it can therefore be expected that the two coalition partners will push for a change of course in the SPD.
There, the chancellor’s position on China is unconditionally supported. The mistake that the Social Democrats made with Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be repeating itself with China’s ruler Xi Jinping.
The port of Hamburg is not a critical infrastructure, said SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil, for example, in the dispute about Chinese participation in Hamburg, thus helping his chancellor.
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.