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China courts Germany's far-right populist AfD

Matthias von Hein
August 11, 2023

The far-right populist Alternative for Germany party rejects a values-based foreign policy, just as much as it rejects NATO and the US. That approach has attracted the attention of Beijing.

Alice Weidel looking pleased
AfD co-leader Alice Weidel has strong connections to ChinaImage: Sebastian Willnow/picture alliance/dpa

A high-ranking three-member delegation from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party recently traveled to China — on an official invitation. AfD co-leader Alice Weidel and her Bundestag federal parliamentary colleagues, Petr Bystron and Peter Felser, spent almost a week in Beijing and Shanghai at the end of June.

Upon their return, Felser told DW that he supposed it was his party's good results in the German polls which had sparked the interest of the Chinese. The AfD is currently polling more than 20% nationwide.

Party head Weidel let it be known that their Chinese contacts had been very well-informed about the work of the AfD.

Weidel herself knows the People's Republic of China very well. She spent six years living there on a German Academic Exchange Service scholarship and completed her doctorate on the Chinese pension system, before moving on to work for Goldman Sachs. Today, she praises the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese.

She has also ridiculed German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's criticism of the human rights situation in China.

"God help us: Baerbock is on a new mission in #China. She wants to emphasize the 'shared European conviction.' This already fails because it is not only #France which does not share this conviction..." she wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) when Baerbock traveled there in April.

AfD critical of Germany's China Strategy

The AfD has positioned itself in opposition to the German government's critical policy toward China. Berlin's China Strategy, published in mid-July, for example, was denounced by Bystron, the AfD's foreign policy spokesperson, as the "attempt to implement green-woke ideology and US geopolitical interests under the guise of a strategy for German foreign policy."

The description of China in the strategy as a rival — as well as a partner and competitor — was for Bystron "the consequence of the US' confrontational course toward China. This confrontation and division are not in the interests of Germany as an export nation," he said.

Germany's far-right AfD party surges in opinion polls

For political scientist Wolfgang Schroeder from the University of Kassel, the AfD's foreign policy positions demonstrate an attempt to set itself apart from the other German political parties. Geopolitically, said Schroeder, the AfD sees the traditional Western ties with the United States, which it regards as hegemonic, as having past their use-by date.

"The AfD considers Washington to be more part of the problem than part of the solution to the challenges facing Germany," he told DW. "That's because the AfD considers the US an imperial actor whose vested interests cannot be reconciled with those of Germany."

For AfD, human rights criticism 'totally irrelevant'

In China, according to AfD's Felser, the lawmakers told their Chinese contacts that the AfD does not like it "when someone travels all over the world and then wants to impose their values upon others."

For Schroeder, this attitude comes as no surprise. "AfD politicians describe the criticism of human rights in China as totally irrelevant, as quixotic. For them, every country has its own problem areas and other countries should not interfere," he said.

After returning from China, party head Weidel announced that she wanted to keep the lines of communication with Beijing open. It will perhaps help that cause that, in late July, the AfD chose Maximilian Krah as its top candidate for the 2024 European Parliament elections.

Members of AfD congratulate Maximilian Krah after winning the vote during the European election assembly 2023 of AfD in Magdeburg
Maximilian Krah (center) is the AfD's top candidate for the European Parliament elections in 2024Image: Annegret Hilse/REUTERS

The member of the European Parliament from Saxony, who aligns himself with the right-wing side of his party, has attracted attention in the past for multiple pro-China statements. Perhaps that's why Krah is also glad to be interviewed by Chinese media, such as by the Global Times in November 2022.

"The anti-China forces in Germany do not represent the interests of Germany," he told the state-run English language publication. "Decoupling from China would serve only the interests of America and damage our own industry severely."

AfD 'understands, accepts Chinese way of governing'

"To a certain extent, the AfD is presenting itself as the authentic force bringing German interests to bear in the geopolitical constellation and which understands and accepts the Chinese way of governing, of living, of organizing authority because they are a result of Chinese development," said Schroeder. 

However, the AfD has at times also expressed its own criticism of China. For example: The party has opposed the use of components from the Chinese communications equipment supplier Huawei in the expansion of 5G mobile internet services in Germany. And in early August, the AfD's German parliamentary spokesperson on research policy, Michael Kaufmann, spoke out against Chinese scientific espionage at German universities.

This article was originally written in German.

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