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China outraged: Baerbock called President Xi 'dictator'

September 18, 2023

China has sharply rejected statements made by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in the United States about Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
Annalena Baerbock is an outspoken critic of ChinaImage: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture alliance

China on Monday complained about comments made in English during a recent trip to the US by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Germany's Foreign Ministry confirmed later in the day that the country's ambassador to China, Patricia Flor, had been summoned in Beijing late on Sunday to face reprimand over Baerbock's comments. 

Baerbock caused the stir when she referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "dictator" in an interview with US cable network Fox News on September 14.

The description is "extremely absurd" and seriously infringes on China's dignity, Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said, calling Baerbock's remarks an "open political provocation."

China's Foreign Ministry also said that it had made "solemn representations to the German side through diplomatic channels."

China 'strongly dissatisfied' with Baerbock remarks

What did Baerbock say about Xi?

As part of her trip to the United States last week, Baerbock gave a live interview to Fox News in which, when asked about Russia's war against Ukraine, she made comments that outraged China.

In the interview, Baerbock stressed the German government's support for Ukraine. "We will support Ukraine as long as it takes," she told Fox News, when asked how the government in Berlin saw the end of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine.

"If Putin were to win this war, what sign would that be for other dictators in the world, like Xi, like the Chinese president? Therefore, Ukraine has to win this war," Baerbock said.

In June, US President Joe Biden also called Xi a "dictator" a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to China aimed at stabilizing ties.

German FM Baerbock on Germany's new China strategy

When abroad, Baerbock regularly speaks English, by no means a given for German foreign ministers. Her use of language, however, has already put Berlin on the back foot in the past.

In February, Baerbock told the European Parliament "we are fighting a war against Russia," prompting a race in Berlin to clarify that NATO countries were supporting Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia, rather than being party to the conflict. 

Germany's new China policy

China is Germany's top trading partner, but Berlin released a new policy in July to compete with a more "assertive" Beijing after months of wrangling within the government over its strategy.

Berlin's new China policy marks a good balance between the two different positions in the German coalition government and describes Beijing as a "partner, competitor, systemic rival."

While German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, has a more trade-friendly stance toward China, Baerbock, a Green politician, is an outspoken critic of Beijing.

In August, she said China posed a challenge to the "fundamentals of how we live together in this world." Earlier, she described aspects of a trip to China as "more than shocking" and said Beijing was increasingly becoming more of a systemic rival than a trade partner.

dh/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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