Monday, November 29

A two-way Germany | Opinion

Angela Merkel with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, in May 2018.
Angela Merkel with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, in May 2018.JASON LEE / Reuters

To know how we are going to get along with China from now on, we Europeans depend on Germany. If it wants to change things, Brussels needs the future German government to be there for the job. Beijing has been Berlin’s first bilateral trade partner for five years. German companies have invested there more than any other European country. For them, the most important thing is that the Executive that comes out of the negotiations does not touch what works.

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Like the western one, these days the Chinese press has also put Angela Merkel’s stage in perspective. Among the praises: his cautious and conciliatory attitude, like that of his predecessors, but with a touch of curiosity. “In 2014, during a visit to Chengdu, Merkel stopped at a market to buy watercress, noodles, pepper and star anise,” highlighted the propaganda of the Xinhua agency this week. She has been a pragmatic partner, as the Communist Party likes, and has signed contracts that her European partners would have liked to sign. That is why there are those who criticize him for playing two bands.

In the 16 years of Merkel’s rule, no country has changed as much as China. Private consumption has more weight and they increasingly manufacture goods with greater added value, which allows them to depend less on the outside. The Communist Party sells that they are occupying the position that corresponds to them. So that German companies did not lose in that transition, Merkel herself led foreign policy from the Chancellery, with the support of Minister Altmeier. In total, he traveled to China 12 times. It is usual that within the same government there are different positions in Trade, for example, than in Foreign Affairs or Defense, but in this case Merkel took a very clear position: avoid a conflict with China.

This has had consequences at the European level. Although Brussels is reviewing its stance with Beijing on fronts like 5G or investment policy, on some issues the EU is tepid, critics say, because Berlin is not pushing hard enough. An example is the European strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region, which was published a year ago. It is very generic and avoids talking about rivalry with China.

Germany has every incentive to pursue its own, non-European, policy towards Beijing. The issue is whether the new government will follow the current line or adopt a discourse more similar to that of other countries that advocate putting red lines. All the German parties have a more skeptical position than years ago, but there is no consensus: some believe that China should not be treated as an enemy because then the German economy will suffer; Others insist that it is time for assertiveness on issues such as respect for human rights and that German companies cannot take foreign policy hostage.


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