Asia is not just China. The Federal Chancellor has been spreading this message in the German economy for months. He would like “that we develop a much stronger view of the other Asia, of Africa and of South America for investments, for imports and exports,” says Olaf Scholz again and again.
The “other Asia” also includes Vietnam and Singapore, two countries that the Chancellor will visit before taking part in the G20 summit of the largest industrialized and emerging countries in Indonesia (15/16 November).
A delegation of German entrepreneurs is also on board. In Singapore, Scholz gives a speech at the Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business, to which Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck is also traveling.
According to the chancellor’s office, the trip and especially the participation in the Asia-Pacific conference are a signal for the desired economic diversification, with which one wants to become more independent from China. Getting out of the routine always involves risks for companies.
From the Ministry of Economic Affairs it can be heard that there should be cheap government investment guarantees with which companies can secure new business. In return, the guarantees for countries like China are to be reduced.
Economic relations with Singapore have become stronger during the corona pandemic. Numerous German companies have relocated to Singapore due to the restrictive Covid rules and the political situation in Hong Kong. More than 2000 German companies are currently registered.
The high-tech country also maintains two multi-billion sovereign wealth funds that primarily invest in sustainable projects and that the federal government would like to help finance the energy transition in Germany. This will definitely be a topic of conversation when Olaf Scholz meets Premier Lee Hsien Loong.
The federal government’s Indo-Pacific strategy was still being developed under Angela Merkel. Scholz now wants to expand it in the light of developments in China. The Chancellor held the first joint government consultations with India, and he traveled to Japan early on. The Federal President and the Green Federal Foreign Minister were also on the road in Asia.
Vietnam as “a major middle power in Southeast Asia” and Singapore as “a foreign policy actor who is stability and rule-oriented and with whom we have a whole range of things in common in this regard” are the “final chord” for the Chancellor’s first year in office, so to speak , it was said in the run-up to the upcoming trip from the Chancellery.
But how far do the emphasized similarities go? So far that they fulfill the basis for international cooperation that the SPD, Greens and FDP agreed in their coalition agreement? Trade and supply chains are politically charged today.
The Greens in particular stand for a value-based foreign and foreign trade policy. Ethical and moral aspects are very important to you, especially respect for human rights.
This is so important to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that she publicly reminded the Chancellor before he flew to China. This triggered a storm of indignation in the SPD. The Chancellor did not have to be lectured, it was said.
The Social Democrats are strangers to the Greens anyway. Martin Schulz, head of the party-affiliated Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, had previously accused Baerbock of not being able to conduct foreign policy “solely with a raised moral index finger” but also having to orientate oneself “to pragmatic necessities”.
That is also the Chancellor’s line. In recent months, Olaf Scholz has repeatedly emphasized that in an increasingly multipolar world, one cannot only rely on those who have the same political views. He represents an interest-based foreign policy that measures decisions according to their possible economic or strategic success.
There are many countries that are not democracies and not constitutional states, said Scholz recently at a party event of the SPD. But that alone is not an exclusion criterion for him if two other important points are correct. It is very important “that you don’t have to be too afraid if you disagree with the government”. It is to be seen as the beginning of the rule of law “that you can rely on the government not simply pursuing you”.
The second criterion is “that one is not aggressive towards one’s neighbors, that one does not pursue any revanchistic concepts”. Measured against these two criteria, “there will be many with whom we can and must work,” said Scholz.
Democracy must “be fought for by the peoples of the world themselves”, it is not about “the concept of a regime change”. What Scholz means by that: It’s not about re-education, but about everyone getting along as well as possible.
Political scientist Heribert Dieter from the Science and Politics Foundation thinks that’s right. “If it benefits our economic interests, then we should maintain economic relations with problematic countries,” the professor told DW. Concentrating only on friendly, democratic market economies is “very popular at the moment, but a mistake.”
It makes “poorer because we partially forego the benefits of the international division of labor”. In addition, potential partners are being deprived of the opportunity for further development and are being driven into the arms of China and Russia. “When it comes to relations with many Asian and African and Latin American countries, the Chinese focus on business. And if we place too much emphasis on values, then it’s clear who will do the business,” says Dieter.
Singapore is also not a democracy in the western sense, but is governed autocratically. But the country is stable and rule-oriented and has recently strengthened gay rights, for example. Thanks to a free trade agreement with the European Union, there are already close economic ties with Germany. The bilateral trade volume rose to 11.4 billion euros in 2021.
Germany also has good economic relations with socialist Vietnam, which go back to the historical connections at the time of the division of Germany. At that time, many Vietnamese lived in the GDR. A lot of German is taught in Vietnam, and there is even a German-Vietnamese university.
During the corona pandemic, Vietnam generously donated masks to Germany. The federal government responded by saying that Vietnam received one of the largest vaccine donations from Germany, with over ten million doses. According to German government circles, Vietnam is “a potent economic partner and one with whom it is worth exploring further forms of cooperation”.
But Vietnam is also not a market economy and not a constitutional state in the Western sense, and the relationship with Germany is not untroubled either. A Vietnamese is currently on trial in Berlin who is said to have been involved in the kidnapping of a compatriot on behalf of the Vietnamese secret service.
The ex-manager had applied for political asylum in Germany. In 2017 he was attacked in Berlin and dragged into a van with his girlfriend. He was brought to Vietnam via Prague and sentenced to life imprisonment twice.
The federal government then expelled a diplomat and the official representative of the Vietnamese secret service in Germany and demanded the immediate release of the kidnapped man. That didn’t work, but the protests from Berlin presumably meant that the man was not sentenced to death.
It is not known whether the fate of the businessman will be discussed again in Hanoi. On the other hand, what the Federal Chancellor certainly wants to talk about is Vietnam’s position on the Russian war against Ukraine.
So far, Vietnam has always abstained from the votes of the UN General Assembly. According to the Chancellor’s Office, they now want to demand a clear positioning. This also includes a clear stance on the use of nuclear weapons.
Author: Sabine Kinkartz
The original for this post “German business friends wanted” comes from Deutsche Welle.