China, Germany and Europe: the good years are finally over – politically

It will be uncomfortable for China, Germany and Europe. The abrupt tone of Secretary of State Wang Yi’s trip to Europe was a foretaste. He wanted to make up for the EU-China summit on Monday. But his bossy attitude caused consternation.

Everyone must first learn to deal with conflict openly. They treated their relationship like a sunny relationship for decades. Everyone benefited from the growing trade. If there were problems – with human rights or with the Chinese state economy, that disadvantage foreign companies – improvement was promised.

We are still a developing country, Beijing asked for understanding. The Europeans promised more patience, the Germans ahead. They focus on “change through rapprochement”. If you cooperate, China will open. China became Germany’s largest trading partner for the US and France. And the EU as China’s largest trading partner.

China has become stronger and no longer wants to submit to itself

“Partner” is no longer the correct word for the relationship. China has become a rival politically and economically. The Federation of German Industries (FDI) calls the country a “system competitor”. The European umbrella organization Business Europe complains about “market disruptions”. The EU must establish and enforce fair competition in a treaty.

Approach without change. China has become Germany’s largest trading partner. And the EU is China’s largest trading partner Photo: DPA

How did it get there? First, China has become stronger. It is now the largest economy in the world, economically comparable to the EU or the US. Beijing no longer sees any reason to adapt. It confidently lives out its otherness. Second, it was decided in Beijing not to open any further, but to consolidate the power monopoly both internally and externally. Some cite the 2017 party congress as a turning point, others already cite Xi Jinping’s decision as president in 2013.

Xi Jinping is pursuing an offensive “China First” policy

“China First” applies under President Xi. The country claims dominance, both economically and politically. Beijing militarily threatens its neighbors, oppresses Uyghurs and Tibetans, and crushes the democracy movement in Hong Kong. It denies transparency about the origins of the coronavirus and puts pressure on democracies that ask for clarification. It breaks international treaties that protect Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Europe listens carefully, also out of self-interest. It wanted the state-affiliated company Huawei to participate in the European digital 5G networks. But can you trust Huawei with the data of millions of Europeans if China breaks treaties?

China is no longer an easy partner for the German economy. Many German companies are doing good business. But their numbers are declining and complaints about backlog are increasing.

All over Europe, pressure is growing to rethink Chinese policy. And with that, the pressure on Germany, Beijing’s most important partner. An effective EU policy towards China can only succeed if all EU countries work together.

The change of course comes with black-green at the latest

However, the EU does not act as a whole. Some, such as France, Great Britain, Czech Republic and Slovenia, are generally stricter. Not the same as “disconnection,” the dismantling of interdependence, which Donald Trump is calling for. But robust advocacy for Western interests, preferably in conjunction with the US and the democracies of Asia: Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand.

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Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are fast becoming Beijing’s veto rights in the EU. They take into account China’s investments in their country.

Germany must correct its course: no longer prioritize economic interests at the expense of freedom and multilateralism, openly address human rights, revise Huawei’s role in 5G, demand more help from China, the biggest polluter, with global climate protection and the same free market access as Chinese companies here to enjoy. A new balance comes at the latest when black and green rule.

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