The head the BND foreign intelligence service warned parliamentarians in Berlin about "naivety" toward China in an annual public hearing of Germany's three main spy agencies Monday.
Bruno Kahl questioned the wisdom of ever-deepening ties with Beijing, saying there was "certainly room for improvement" when dealing with China.
Federal Intelligence Service President Kahl made the statement in testimony delivered alongside Military Counterintelligence (MAD) President Martina Rosenberg and Thomas Haldenwang, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) domestic intelligence agency, in an annual public hearing before the Bundestag.
All three spy chiefs warned specifically about the threat posed by China in a hearing that included discussion about the current situation with Russia.
Is China spying on Germany?
Kahl criticized parliamentarians for not taking advice from the agencies seriously in the past, saying Germany would be better served if politicians heeded warnings rather than "brushing off intelligence services' warnings as scaremongering and grandstanding."
The agency heads said that Russian aggression in Ukraine and ensuring difficult energy security situation had come as no surprise to them, noting that they had provided repeated warnings on the issue in the past.
The three were forceful in their warnings that politicians and business leaders should not make the same mistake when it comes to China.
MAD President Rosenberg said China had been conducting "sophisticated spying operations" on Germany's armed forces for years.
BfV President Haldenwang sought to impress the scope of the situation on parliamentarians by using an environmental metaphor, saying, "If Russia is a storm, China is climate change."
Germany has put 'profit over security' when dealing with China
BND President Kahl urged vigilance when dealing with Beijing, which aims to be a global technology leader by 2049. "I believe that a great change in awareness has already set in but of course there is a lot of trust and naivety in the scientific field, that is not appropriate."
For years, German businesses have invested heavily in China despite concerns over Beijing's reputation for stealing technology and know-how from its partners, choosing instead to pursue immediate profits and disregard problems likely to arise later.
Relations between Berlin and Beijing have been strained of late, especially in regard to issues such as China's zero-COVID policies, its escalating threats toward Taiwan, and human rights concerns over the treatment of Muslim minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.
The shock of Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also awakened lawmakers and society at large to the dangers of becoming beholden to any one particular partner regarding economic ties.
Russia had been Germany's biggest gas and oil supplier until the war began. Moscow's February 24 invasion forced an absolute about- face for Berlin, which has been feverishly scrambling to find new suppliers ever since.
Still, the quest for profits has proven hard to resist. Volkswagen, for instance, announced last week that it would move ahead with a €2.4 billion ($2.3 billion) autonomous driving joint venture with China's Horizon Robotics.
BND boss warns of 'globally ascendant autocratic China'
Kahl told parliamentarians he viewed allowing Chinese actors to get involved in German infrastructure projects, such as a proposed 35% stake by shipping giant COSCO in Hamburg's container terminal, "very critically."
"Of course a port, for example, is the type of critical infrastructure that you have to examine very carefully before you enter into a commitment," he said.
Noting the threat posed by a "globally ascendant autocratic China," Kahl said Germany: "must be prepared for the fact that ... economic levers could be used to enforce Chinese ideas. Should there be differences in the political views of Germany on the one side and China on the other, then these means will also be used."
The port project is currently on hold due to concerns put forth by the federal government in Berlin.
BfV President Haldenwang echoed Kahl's warnings, saying, "We must not allow a situation in which the Chinese state can influence political events in Germany."
On Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping opened his country's 20th Communist Party Congress by threatening self-ruled Taiwan as he prepares to cement his power as the lone ruler of the world's second largest economy indefinitely, rather than stepping down after a maximum of two five-year terms as had been tradition after the death of Mao Zedong.
js/wmr (AFP, dpa)