A few weeks ago released the Chinese Global Times a caricature of Germany’s China policy: Germany’s economy as a broken factory, destroyed by the hands of politicians. According to the drawing, the German companies are only helplessly resisting it. The accompanying text is about an announcement by Economics Minister Robert Habeck that human rights should be respected when dealing with China want to give higher priority. The author warned that Germany should now rather take a “rational economic path”.
These are latent threats that have been running through China’s state press for months. The party newspapers warn of an imminent recession in Germany, a cold winter, but also of supposedly “radical anti-Chinese forces.” Trade relations should not be “politicized”, in the end only the market should decide how business is done. Decoupling, they say, is a dangerous game. Because without China, the German economy would lack its impetus.
The Germans should be more careful now, that’s what it sounds like. Otherwise things could get uncomfortable. Lithuania has recently felt that Beijing does not shy away from taking revenge when a government does what the leadership does not like. Because it expanded its relations with Taiwan, China stopped all trade relations with the small state.
Beijing seems to see the apparently existing differences between the Federal Chancellery and the Foreign Office as a lever for influencing the domestic German debate. While Chancellor Scholz has been portrayed as a guarantor of continuity in relations since his trip to Beijing, the state media are attacking Annalena Baerbock.
The current focus is on the new China strategy. This should not be published until the beginning of next year, but the draft from the Foreign Office was made public on Thursday. This had not yet been coordinated with all departments. A reason for forwarding the document first to the mirror could be the concern that the Federal Chancellery watered down the critical inventory of Baerbock’s ministry.
In the draft, the Federal Foreign Office writes that the Chinese leadership “considers its political system superior and its ‘core interests’ should not be questioned.” You pursue an increasingly aggressive foreign policy and use economic dependencies to achieve political goals. “China is changing – how we deal with China must also change“It says in the 59-page paper that is available to the SZ.
It is not the final version, but the reaction from Beijing was violent. A State Department statement said the classification of China as a competitor and systemic rival was “a legacy of Cold War thinking.” The Chinese government also rejects the “denigration of China by the German side” with “so-called human rights issues” and “lies and rumours”.
At the beginning of Baerbock’s term in office, the state press repeatedly focused on the Foreign Minister. For example, after an interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in January, in which she called the attacks on Lithuania an attempt by China to “divide Europe and discourage other countries from producing in Lithuania”. The media then said that Baerbock was confusing “right and wrong”. Although China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned her not to engage in “megafund diplomacy,” the “hardliner” continued to be critical. According to the state press, German-Chinese relations should not be thrown off course by “loudmouths” and “pro-American forces”.
A few months later, she was hit hard for comments about Taiwan. Referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Baerbock had declared that it could not be accepted if “a larger neighbor attacks his smaller neighbor in violation of international law”. And added: “Of course, that also applies to China these days.”
A comparison that the leadership in Beijing does not appreciate at all. Ukraine is a sovereign state, but Germany, like most countries in the world, does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan, which governs itself independently of the People’s Republic. The expected outburst of anger followed in Beijing: the Foreign Minister’s statements lacked “basic historical knowledge”. The Greens politician “deliberately distorted facts,” said the Chinese embassy in Berlin.
The Cosco deal was interpreted in China as a gift from the Chancellor
Chinese media had also tried to clarify the differences between Scholz and Baerbock around Olaf Scholz’s inaugural visit. The party newspaper Global Times warned against “noise” in the German China debate. While Foreign Minister Baerbock was blamed in the play for “exaggerated” concerns about Germany’s dependence on China, the paper portrayed Scholz’s visit to Beijing as a sign of strengthening ties.
The German Chancellor traveled to China just two weeks after the CP party congress, during which Xi secured a third term as party leader. The trip was interpreted on state television as a “major change in European attitudes towards China,” and the Cosco deal in the port of Hamburg as a gift from the Chancellor to China. The visit is a sign that more and more countries are now taking a positive view of China’s future development.
The interpretation, which swept through posts on China’s social media after the early release of the draft China strategy over the weekend, was echoed in a comment by nationalist blogger and entrepreneur Ding Chenling on Weibo. He called the German traffic light coalition an aimless, “three-headed monster” that was too divided internally to develop an effective China policy. The divisions and inconsistencies are so great that there is no danger for China.