Olaf Scholz waved the port of Hamburg’s China deal through. In the traffic light, the Liberals and Greens find it next to it. But what is just beginning in Hamburg has already become a tradition in another German city. Duisburg is Germany’s “China City”. And should it remain so according to the will of the state government. is that wise

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann finds the Hamburg China deal “foolish”. Because “Russia’s attack on Ukraine has just made it clear how dangerous dependencies on dictatorships are”. And what applies to Russia “applies even more to China,” says the combative FDP woman now to FOCUS online.

The Chinese are already involved in 14 ports in Europe. And the 24.9 percent with which the Chinese state-owned company Cosco has a stake in the Hamburg port terminal can quickly become the originally targeted 35 percent, for example via a newly founded Chinese company. But Strack-Zimmermann draws attention from Hamburg to another big city.

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The future of logistics is emerging on the former coal island in Duisburg-Meiderich, if you believe the proud port operators and the equally proud Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst (CDU). With 235,000 square meters, the Duisburg Gateway Terminal will be the largest terminal in the European hinterland in just two years.

Until recently, people in Duisburg were ready to seal their next dependency on China, under the eyes of a state government that doesn’t want to know anything about the geopolitical dangers that a gigantic logistics project entails. NRW Prime Minister Wüst, says Strack-Zimmermann, “resounds in silence”.

That was not always so. At the groundbreaking ceremony in March, CDU top politician Wüst was pleased about the flagship project, which is so promising for his state: “The first container terminal to be operated completely climate-neutral with hydrogen sets the course for a climate-neutral future and is an example of the excellent research in the field of hydrogen in North Rhine-Westphalia -Westphalia, which we support as the state government.” With 13 million euros, as Oliver Krischer said. Krischer is from the Greens and North Rhine-Westphalia’s transport minister in the country’s first black-green coalition.

Not only Wust is happy. The Chinese were happy too. You were originally part of the 100 million project. With a third, more precisely: with 30 percent. And with the state-owned company whose name you already know from Hamburg: Cosco.

In recent years, President Xi Jinping’s logisticians have cast a dense network of port holdings across Europe. Lots of fish swim in it, but probably the biggest fish in the China net is an entire city: Duisburg. Nowhere else in Europe do so many Chinese students study as at the University of Duisburg: 2,000 young Chinese study here free of charge and return home to China with what they have learned, for example the latest research in mechanical engineering.

Duisburg is the end point of the “Silk Road”, 40 trains from China arrive here – every day. With Chinese clothes or electronics after driving across Russia and Belarus and past Ukraine.

The new “Silk Road” is the central project of President Xi, with which he promotes trade with Europe – and in doing so covers the continent with strategic dependencies. Duisburg plays an important role, only this city was worth a detour for Xi. The president came to personally shake hands with the then Duisburg harbor master.

Nobody saw through the geostrategic ambitions of the Chinese as frankly as the architect of this gigantic conversion project in Duisburg, Erich Staake. The ex-Bertelsmann manager, who was brought in by the then Social Democratic Prime Minister Wolfgang Clement, was supposed to show in Rheinhausen what the future of a country looks like when the coal is gone. And you have to say: Staake was successful with it.

If you drove through the port with him in a VW bus, Staake said he couldn’t understand why the Europeans were so docile about this quiet conquest by the Chinese. It is clear that the Chinese are not only concerned with business, but also with political dependencies, for example in the Balkans – or in Greece. There, the people of Xi now own the port of Piraeus – 100 percent.

And if you asked Staake about his competitor Hamburg, he was happy to answer that they shouldn’t be so fat, the Hamburgers, because the actual Chinese base in Germany is: Duisburg. That’s correct. And it’s traditional.

Exactly 40 years ago, the first German-Chinese town twinning was formed here – with China’s fifth largest city. Wuhan has eleven million inhabitants and since the emergence of the corona virus, the reputation of this city in Germany is perhaps not quite as impeccable. In any case, in the political partnership between Duisburg and Wuhan, the flag followed trade. First the Thyssen people built a steelworks in the central Chinese metropolis, then the politicians followed.

There are now 100 Chinese companies in the city. And while the Dortmunders have their smart city digitization project built by the Americans, in Duisburg they prefer the Chinese. The city is working with Huawei, they want to digitize the traffic lights in the city. At home in China, people are preferably digitized using “social scoring”, preferably those who, in the opinion of the Communist Party, do not behave in a socially acceptable manner.

A port is not just a hub for goods and a city has more people than traffic lights. The most important thing a port and city has to offer a quasi-sovereign foreign investor is data. Perhaps that is what is meant when the Greens and Free Democrats in Berlin, for example, warn that Germany’s “critical infrastructure” should not be left to the Chinese.

Things then get complicated at state level, because this is where things get concrete. And when it comes to investments, especially in future projects, party politics no longer plays a role. Hamburg’s Social Democratic Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) defended the China port deal, as did Düsseldorf’s Christian Democratic Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst.

On the fringes of the most recent prime ministerial conference, he softened. The German-Chinese cooperation, “keyword Silk Road, is good and reliable”. In Duisburg, “no one from China is involved in the port,” said Wüst. That’s actually true – now. Because, secretly, quietly, Cosco has now apparently withdrawn from his participation. According to the FAZ, the port took over the shares.

Felix Banaszak comes from Duisburg and he finds what Hamburg and Duisburg are doing to China “naive”. In Duisburg, says the Berlin Green Party, “many dependencies” have been created. Banaszak expressly criticized the port participation.

Is it possible to reverse deals like the one in Duisburg later, when the situation has changed and a partner like China starts pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, Ms. Strack Zimmermann? “We are of course faithful to the contract,” says the Berlin Free Democrat, who comes from Düsseldorf and therefore knows the Duisburg situation, in an interview with FOCUS online.

“But we can’t do anything like that in the future.”